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j f^t^^il^lf^LjL.-.^ 






^ * J 



Copyright, 1913, by 


All Rights Reserved 

Copyright in England 


ist edition December, 1913 
2nd edition August, 1914 

• • 

•i : 





—the loveliest lady who ever added the wisdom of 
the new thought to the charm of the old 
manner - this discussion of the 
newest thinkers is dedi- 
cated in love and 


The first essay in the present volume has not 
hitherto appeared in print. The four following 
essays, fully revised, are reprinted from my "Inter- 
preters of Life, and the Modern Spirit/* now out of 
print. The last essay appeared in the Forum (New 
York) and the Mercure de France (Paris). For 
permission to reproduce fragments of essays form- 
erly published I am indebted to the editors of the 
Deutsche Revue (Stuttgart and Berlin), Mercure de 
France (Paris), La Societe Nouvelle (Ghent and 
Paris), Finsk Tidskrift (Helsingfors), Illustreret 
Tidende (Stockholm), Atlantic Monthly (Bos- 
ton), Arena (Boston), North American Review 
(New York), Bookman (New York), Sewanee Re- 
view (Sewanee and New York). 

Archibald Henderson. 


Chapel Hill, N. C. 



August Strindberg 3 

Henrik Ibsen 75 

Maurice Maeterlinck i99 

Oscar Wilde 253 

Bernard Shaw 323 

Granville Barker • •: ..: •: .•, ;• .. • • . 365 


• - ••• • • • • • 

• ' • • • • 


The supreme goal of the great literature of our 
era has been and remains the expression, in some 
form of final artistic denotement, of the strug gle of 
the eg o at self-realization. This recurrent note in 
the eternal symphony^f life rings out again and 
again in the authentic, harmonic intuitions of the 
supermen of contemporary thought, philosophy and 
art. This dionysian searching after the divine in 
the human, this headlong struggle for the exaltation 
of the individual soul to the heights of superhuman 
conquest and super-moral ethics, is the sign-manual 
of the daemonic dissonance and spiritual chaos of 
to-day. That free and daring individualist, philo- 
sophic progenitor of Nietzsche and contemporary 
anarchism. Max Stimer, repudiated the claims of the 
species in behalf of the ideal of Man, the individual. 
The realization of man as the generally human was 
abandoned for the sake of the realization of man 
as the anarchic unit of life. *' I am my own species, 
without law, without model " — such is the clamant 
individualism of Stirner. 

From Stimer and his ultimate philosophy of the 


• -•• ••••.■•• 

4 '•-. : " ': :fcUROE£AN. -DRAMATISTS 

autonomous will, stem the clamant and revolutionary 
forms of contemporary egoism, individualism and 
spiritual anarchism. With Nietzsche entered into 
modern consciousness the sense of a superhuman 
ideal for man, springing phoenix-like from the ashes 
of universal illusionism, the relativity of the con- 
cepts of good and evil, the fundamental amoralism 
of Nature. In Halvard Solness, Ibsen presents the 
disquieting figure of the superman in embryo, vainly 
seeking that freedom which Nietzsche defined as the 
will to be responsible for one's self. The happiest 
of the optimists, Maeterlinck, who suavely wrests 
consolation from the very thought of dissolution, 
has succumbed to the pressure of the new ideal in 
the words : " There is more active charity in the 
egoism of a strenuous, far-seeing soul than in all the 
devotion of a soul that is helpless and blind.'' Ber- 
nard Shaw, the Socialist, with his inherent sense of 
the inter-dependence of all the units of society, never- 
theless is driven to the ideal of the human tempera- 
ment, guided by passion and operating instinctively. 
From the Life Force of Shaw, the elan vital of Berg- 
son, emerges the identical concept of creative evolu- 
tion — the individual soul, continually creating be- 
yond himself, " rising above himself to himself," in 
the struggle to attain the supreme, ineluctable pur- 
poses of Life. 

From the study of the work of August Strindberg, 
the spiritual autobiography of the greatest ^subjec- 



t iyist of modem t imes, there emerges the inevitable 
conviction that Eere is, in a spiritual sense, a tenta- 
tive incarnation of the superhuman ideals of con- 
temporary thought and sensibility. Above all the 
dissonances of that inharmonious and jangled ex- 
istence sounds the clear strain of persistently lofty 
\ idealism. This figure of strenuous mental vitality, ^ 
o¥ transcendent spiritual energy, thrilled with the 
towering ambition of the individual will, tumultuous, 
passionate, unstable. And yet the alluring contours 
of his art-work are chiseled, with the cold, merciless 
steel oFThe sculptor-analyst. In conjunction with 
this towering ambition is discernible the supersensi- 
tiveness of the shy, wild, primitive creature, cower- 
ing beneath " all the weary weight of this unintel- 
ligible world.*' In inexplicable union are found the 
arrogant individualist, shyly naive even to very char- 
latanry, and the intuitive subjectlvlst, ruthlessly ex- 
posing to view the tragedies of humanity and the 
antinomies of his own soul. Strindberg is the con- 
genital dualist of our epoch — a dualist in every 
faintest manifestation of his nature. In him the 
.Spirit eternally warred against the flesh, the flesh 
against the spirit. The incarnation of that pure 
energy, dionysian in origin, which Blake described as 
eternal delight, Strindberg shrlnklngly sought refuge 
from the storms of life in the haven of mysticism 
and occultism. As artist, the paradox of his dualism 
is no less astounding; for the integrity of his in- 



tellect, in achieving the realism of fact, is equalled 
only by the intuitive power of his artistry, in sensing 
^ the illusory and the romantic. His whole life was 
I a passionately defiant assertion of the individual will ; 
I and yet he eternally bore the burden of the disillu- 
sioned idealist, sardonically delineating the dread- 
ful, inescapable obligations of contemporary civiliza- 
tion. With high, tragic mien he walked the painful 
path to the scene of his own self-crucifixion, search- 
ing for God if haply he might find Him ; and yet this 
relentless searcher for die good had his gaze 
eternally fixed upon evil and the source of evil. 
Like another Dante, he haunted the ^ades of a 
modern Inferno; but, unlike Dante, in searching for 
God he found the devil. In his sympathetic con- 
templation of the tragedy of human destiny, is felt 
the strange, sweet pathos of one who is somehow 
strong and good ; yet evil, the knowledge of evil, so 
obsessed his consciousness that he stands forth to- 
day as that artist of modern times whose power of 
painting the evil genius of humanity, of turning up 
the seamy side of the garment of life for our horri- 
fied yet fascinated contemplation, is unique and in- 
comparable. In his lifetime, he sought to annex the 
entire domain of the human spirit; and yet this 
search for cosmopolitan culture, for the highest, 
deepest reaches of the artistic consciousness, left him 
as it found him, a plebeian of the soul. It is scarcely 
an exaggeration to affirm that Strindberg is the 


diarist, one had almost said, the jouraalist of per- 
sonal consciousness. A great artist with all the 
allure of genius — tainted with the dross of char- 
latanry and arrogance. Like another Knute, he 
bade the waves of life to recede; but for all his cate- 
gorical imperative, life in the event still obdurately 
refused to do his imperious bidding. He was like 
a brilliant comet out of the North, flaming across 
the contemporary consciousness with radiant corus- 
cations, leaving behind, in its extinguishment! a 
deeper, more chaotic gloom. 


This country has for long paid the penalty for the 
popular, insistent demand that, in analyzing the great 
contemporary writers who have given rise to the in- 
tellectual and spiritual ferment of modern Europe, 
our native critics must carefully skirt the deeper 
sources and causes of the peculiar manifestations, 
indicia, hallucinations, stigmata^ of genius. Ac- 
companying this pressure of public opinion is the 
equally insistent convention that European figures 
must be presented to us solely as leaders in ten- 
dency, specialists in morbidity, heralds and promul- 
gators of aberrant and distorted theories of conduct 
and philosophies of life. In consequence, the mean- 
ing and significance of so important a spiritual mani- 
festation as was August Strindberg is totally evaded 
and missed, in particular by those who seek to pan- 

\ • 


der to popular standards by emasculating him of the 
barbaric, virile qualities which constitute his most 
persistent temperamental fascination. In the dry, 
hard silhouette, projected for American inspection, 
there has been no adequate perspective, no subtle 
delineation, no rendition of the composite and mul- 
tiple shades of his nature, character, and spiritual 
physiognomy. From time to time one has heard 
faint rumors of a Swedish madman who was married 
thrice in proof of his hatred of women; a gruesome 
naturalist who was so obsessed with the mania of 
sex aversion that he achieved European notoriety by 
depicting all women as beasts of prey ; an hallucinated 
mystic who found his intellectual level in the futnis- 
tertes of Sar Peladan; an egoist who was so self- 
assertive, so dogmatic in his assertions, so ineffably 
vain that he devoted his life to heaping scorn and 
ridicule upon all the rest of the world, pouring out 
upon them the vials of his vulgar wrath and con- 
tempt. At last, the moment is arriving when the 
first promise of adequate interpretation and appre- 
ciation of Strindberg is coming to fulfil itself. 
Plays revealing various sides of his multiplex genius, 
the burning intensity, the marvellous realism, sub- 
limated by the inspiration of a hidden mystic feel- 
ing, the ruthless naivete irradiated with powerfully 
vibrant temperament, are now accessible to Ameri- 
can readers, through the painstaking labor of de- 


voted translators.^ Less rarely now are given, 
under semi-professional or even experimental, popu- 
lar conditions, productions of the plays least foreign 
to the taste presumed to be characteristically Ameri- 
can, notably The Father, Miss Julia, The Stronger, 
and Pariah. The promise of translations of the 
most significant and self-revelatory of the novels and 
short stories, now being realized, may go far to- 
wards giving form and color to the figure of Strind- 
berg, and enabling us to arrest and fix the alterna- 
tions of light and shade, the fluctuations and play of 
motives, the spiritual chiaroscuro of his intimately 
confessed, tragic, morbid life. It may then dawn 
upon the consciousness of the English-speaking 
world that this red specter, Strindberg, the bogy of 
feminist hysteria, was a soul " wind-beaten, but as- 

^The pioneering work of Mr. Edwin Bjorkman, the Swedish- 
American critic, both as interpreter and translator, is deserving 
of high praise. He has achieved terse, clear-cut translations, at 
times deficient in the flexibility of conversational English, at times 
too colloquial in tone. As an interpreter, he is lucid and sympa- 
thetic; yet toward the grave shortcomings of his fellow country- 
man, Strindberg, whom he seems to regard as an Olympian " tend- 
ency" phenomenon, he is too insistently apologetic. A debt of 
gratitude we owe to Mrs. Velma Swanston Howard for her im- 
portant service in accentuating the bright, cheerful side of Strind- 
berg in the selection for translation of Lucky Pehr, Easter and 
some of the more charming sketches; her translations are singu- 
larly free and graceful. There are other translators of Strind- 
berg's plasrs; their contributions, by no means negligible, are in the 
main quite lacking in literary distinction. 


tending'^; a creative thinker essentially strong In 
character if not always delicate In tone; an Investi- 
gator with a scientific equipment of no mean order; 
a seeker, a delver in the mysteries of both matter and 
soul; critic, historian, philosophic experimentalist, a 
titan in imagination. This titanic figure, embodying a 
life of truly protean productivity, roughly ex- 
pressed in the fifty odd volumes of his works now 
publishing, has entered Into the world-consciousness 
of modern Europe, bequeathing to this and subse- 
quent generations the herculean task of elucidating 
countless unsolved problems, hazards, dubieties, hy- 
potheses, riddles, and enigmas. 


* The life of August Strindberg is so predominantly, 
chaotic^ the lines of his career run In such amazing 
zig-zag, his personality Is so rich, his temperament 
so Tofcanic, that it seems to defy analysis, or even 
adequate comprehension. The dualism of his nature 
18 so persistently assertive that It Is hazardous to 
attribute to Strindberg some trait or quality, solely 
upon the evidence of any single work of his, how- 
ever authentic or artistically final. It Is only after 
the whole amazing drama of his variegated life and 
disparate achievements lies before us In Its entirety 
that we are enabled to gather up the far-flung and 
scattered threads, to weave them into some sort of 
credible pattern which may serve as the design of 


his life. For his was a life compact oi struggle 
and resignation, conflict and reconciliation. Only 
through the most precise, sympathetic and unpreju- 
diced contemplation can we chart the shifting vital 
currents of his psychic evolution by the moored 
buoys of his written works. ^^ 

The will of those who are no more, Anatole 
France has said, is imposed upon those who still are. 
It is the dead who live. They are to be found in the 
habits, in the lives of us all. Our destiny sleeps 
with us in our cradles. We are not straining 
credulity in attributing Strindberg's profound ethical 
and moral sense to that ancestor of his who preached 
to the peasants of Strinne, whence was formed the 
family name; nor in finding cause for his barbaric, 
headlong martial spirit in that ancestor who was a 
captain, descendant of one of that splendid band 
of victorious fighters who served under Gustavus 
Adolphus, and received knighthood at his hands.^ 
The mingled strains of his ancestry warrant the 
assertion that he was the incarnation of the Pan- 
Germanic spirit. In the portrait of his grandfather, 
Zacharias Strindberg (1758-1829), a dramatist of 
considerable talent, we may trace the lines of virile 
intellectuality and artistic sensibility. It is how- 
ever to his mother, a creature of sentimentality, 
tender and passionate, that he owes more immedi- 
ately the vibrant sensitivity and innate subjectivism 

^''Die Familie Strmdberg": Das Niut Magamne; 75, t6. 


of his nature. For her he felt the tendcrest attach- 
ment, which reveals itself in his later confession ; but 
the blight of his origin, he being born two months 
after the marriage of his mother, cast a lasting 
gloom over his soul.'^ 

Oskar Strindberg, a steamship agent, had entered 
into a free union with Eleonora Ulrike Norling, a 
poor girl of the servant class by whom he had three 
children before August was born. Early, in life, 
August came to feel the most devitalizing and de- 
pressing Influences which can come into the life of a 
child The. family w^e in very straitened circum- 
stances, and the father flung himself unstintedly 
into the struggle to raise his family to the position 
which his own forbears had held in life; and in con- 
sequence the children were neglected by the father 
— - when they were not beaten. The sense of shame 
In his parentage, It is scarcely to be doubted, bred 
in August a shyness, a supersensitiveness, already in- 
herent In his nature. The conditions of ^e family 
life were little elevated above the squalid. As 
Strindberg put it, there was " a surplusage of popula- 
tion, baptisms and funerals. There were not two 
christenings without a funeral in between." His 
first gloomy impressions of existence were received 
in such an atmosphere of joylessness and unsanitary 
overcrowding — eleven persons In three rooms. 

Under happier surroundings with real parental 

^August Strindberg was born in Stockholm, January 23, iS49« 


oversight — impossible in such conditions — August 
might have blossomed out and expanded normally. 
But He was repressed, left undeveloped, rendered 
morbid and shy by the treatment he received 

^* My rearing consisted in cuffings, scoldings and 
being made to obey. The child had no rights ; only 
duties. Everyone's wishes but his own were heeded : 
his were stifled. He could touch nothing without 
being at fault, stand nowhere without being in the 
way, utter no word without making himself a nui- 
sance. His highest duty, his highest virtue, was — • 
to sit on a chair and keep still." 

It was no wonder that Strindberg came to regard 
the family envisaged in his youthful consciousness 
as the home of all the social faults. To this dark 
experience of home as " the hell of all children " we 
may doubtless attribute the repellent qualities of the 
developed individual — intractability, rebelliousness, 
violence and habitual reaction against the influence 
or domination of others. This was a wonderfully 
precocious child who brooded again and again, in 
later life, over the bitter humiliation of his childhood 
in having his word doubted and then being goaded 
into making a false confession of his guilt. At the 
age of eight he even contemplated suicide, driven to 
the thought by his feeling of love for a young girl 
he was if raid to address; and the thought and intent 
of suicide reverted to him at intervals throughout 
his life. 


There is nothing new in the spectacle of incipient 
genius repressed and retarded in an unsympathetic 
and harsh environment. It was fortunate in a sense 
that this timid child, with nerves stretched almost 
to the breaking point, felt the violent normal symp- 
toms of reaction ; for otherwise such discipline might 
well have resulted in arrested ethical development 
The crassly pietestic tendencies of his mother, 
crossed with excessive sentimentality, seems in some 
measure to explain the self-torturing religious tend- 
encies of the. later Strindberg. If religion on the 
one hand gave him some consolation for the harsh- 
ness of his conditions, on the other his rebellion 
against such a dicipline awoke in him the note of 
social revolt — revolt against that type of education 
railed at by Huxley, the senseless drilling and regi- 
menting of individuals into mere dummies, me- 
chanically playing their part in a mechanistic civiliza- 
tion. The man who could declare of his youth that 
"life, a terrible depressing burden weighed down 
upon me every day " — that man was but expressing 
a state of mind which was so deeply impressed upon 

(his nature that he carried it with him his life long. 
As a child, as a youth, as an old man — it was al- 
ways the same : he never ceased to " go about with 
a guilty conscience. 
In his studies of Nature — flower and tree, animal 
and stone — he found keen intellectual satisfaction. 
Such consolation was very necessary for oiie who 


was left to mourn his mother at the age of thirteen ; 
and when, nearly a year later, his father married 
the former housekeeper, his cup was full, since his 
efforts to establish sympathetic relations with her 
went all for naught. Again, more hopelessly dian 
before, the spontaneous wells of instinctive love and 
longing were dammed back; and he was left to 
brood solitary over his loneliness. ' His early ex- 
periences at school were unfortunate; and even be- 
fore he left school the lines of character had already 
set their mark upon his impressionable nature. 
When in May, 1867, he took his examination pre- 
paratory to matriculation at the University of 
Upsala, he had only a tiny sum which he himself 
had earned by tutoring; his father curtly packed him 
off with a '^ pocketful of cigars and the injunction 
to look out for himself." 

Strindberg afterwards used to maintain that the 
one solid residuum of his first university course was 
a smart tailored coat, which bespoke cultured social 
experience. As a tutor in the family of a wealdiy 
Jewish physician, he came to take interest in and 
even to study medicine ; but the society with which he 
mingled there — artists, singers, people of social 
distinction — soon turned his thoughts in another 
direction, the direction of the stage. The glamour 
of the footlights obsessed him; and he vigor- 
ously devoted his energies to the one purpose 
of becoming an actor. He made his debut at the 


Dramatiska Theatre in 1869 in Bjornson's Mary 
Stuart, playing the part of a lord who has but one 
line to speak. After two months, desperation 
seizes hitA; he demands and receives a hearing. 
The rehearsal is disastrous, and Strindberg is sternly 
commended to the care of a teacher in expression — 
a result which drove him to attempted suicide. As 
chance would have it, the attempt did not prove 
fatal. He was in despair over his failure as an 
actor, for he felt the irresistible urge towards the 
artistic life without the ability to gratify it. Again 
and again he seemed to feel the stirring of the crea- 
tive impulse ; but — there was no creation, |the muse 
was mute. But one day, to his vast astonishment, 
as he was lying upon the sofa, his stereoscopic fancy 
began to function ; the scenes played themselves out 
upon the stage of his brain; and by a spurt of crea- 
tive productivity, he wrote out in two hours the 
scenario for two acts of a comedy. Four days more 
— and we see the completion of Strindberg's first 
creative effort. It is the beginning of his life, if 
not of his career. Although not produced, it won 
commendation — and Strindberg knew at last that 
he had " saved his soul alive." 

Now he yields to the hectic spell of his new-found 
talent; and within two months he hais finished two 
comedies, and a tragedy in verse, Hermione, show- 
ing a marked advance in talent,—^ a play which was 
afterwards produced. His great promise as a dra- 


matist led him to return to the University, in the 
effort to secure the degree deemed so desirable for 
anyone purposing to become a man of letters. EKir- 
ing this year (1870) he wrote a one-act play, In 
Rome, based upon an incident in the life of Thor- 
waldsen, which was anonymously produced in 
August at the Dramatiska Theatre, Stockholm. 
His next play, written under the influence of 
Bjornson, entitled The Outlaw, upon its production 
won him the favor of King Carl XV, who generously 
granted him a stipend of eight hundred riksdaler 
a year from his private purse. 
\ The second period of university study, though it 
did not lead to his securing the coveted degree, is 
a period of distinct acquisition. In the atmosphere 
of knowledge, Strindberg, the genius in embryo, 
comes to some definite realizations of the obligations 
of scholarship, artistic creation and culture. There 
dawns upon him the realization of his epoch, of 
the streams of consciousness in art. He prefigured 
himself in imagination as the transitional link be- 
tween two epochs of art. The influences of his 
studies and wide reading were ineffaceable and so 
determinative of the course of his future develop- 
ment. The scientific precision of Darwin tempered 
r^ the strain of sentiment and naive feeling due to his 

Swedish origin ; the high ethical postulates of Kirke- 
gaard, whose Either-Or affected him powerfully, 
stirred in him the larger humanistic concern so pre- 


dominant in certain of his greatest works, and ef- 
fectively gave them the note of the art work of the 
&ture — art for life's sake. The rationalistic 
clarity of Henry Thomas Buckle, his insistence upon 
the superior claims of the intelligence, his Nietz- 
schean faith in the relativity of truth, his Marxian 
doctrine of the materialistic conception of history, 
as set forth in his History of Civilization in Eng^ 
land — all these conceptions came to abide with 
Strindberg and are refracted, prismatically, from the 
mirror of his works. Most profound of all these 
influences was Eduard Von Hartmann's Philosophy 
of the Unconscious, with its doctrine of constitu- 
tional pessimism, the seeing in life an immitigable 
complex of woes, which must be borne even though 
we fail to fathom the meaning of such a freak of 
fate. In a letter to Tolstoi, Bernard Shaw once 
hazarded the irreverent suggestion that the universe 
might be " only one of God's jokes." It was some 
such mad conception as this which obsessed Strind- 
berg during his life, but he always seemed to feel that 
pod, like the Englishman, jested sadly. Never did 
iso young a man show himself so pervasively impres- 
sionable to the influences of his studies and his read- 
ing. At the same time, it must be sharply stressed 
that Strindberg absorbed and made these ideas thus 
deeply imbibed an integral part of his own concep- 
tion and interpretation of life. If he became ethical 
in tone, the mystic remained always the realist, the 





artist in temperament. If he became a pessimist, 
his was a pessimism not of disillusionment but of 
contemplation. If he became a rationalist, his was 
the rationalism of passion and of sentiment. If he 
can be called a philosophic spirit at all, it is only in 
the very special sense that he remained always a 
persistent and relentless seeker after truth, the ulti- 
mate truth, recking not of consequences either to him- 
self or to others. f 

IV ^ 

- The attempt to base an interpretation of Strind-I 
berg's character upon the unique basis of Strind-| ' 
berg's dramas of contemporary life proceeds from 
a basic failure to comprehend the true meaning of 
his life. These plays, in many instances, reveal 
either transitional phases of his own temperamental 
and cultural evolution, or else embody his efforts to 
arrive at some philosophical generalization upon the 
problems of human existence and human destiny. 
Strindberg is the arch-sub jectivist of our era. In 
his novels and his short stories, and in particular the 
works confessedly autobiographical, shall we rather 
discover the inner workings of this tortured soul, 
seeking some ultimate forms of self-realization 
through self-expression and intimate confession. For 
Strindberg declaimed fiercely against the conven- 
tional approbation of the static character, the per- 
sonality forever fixed and unalterable, rotating end- 



lessly within the circle of his own limitation. 
Progress with Strindbcrg was synonymous with flux 
— -with perpetual alteration and transition from one 
phase of psychical experience to another. To 
Strindberg, the soul of man was rich and wonderful 
in proportion to its potentiality for change, for 
transition, for elemental evolutionary cataclysms. 
The entire life of this strenuous, dynamic creature 
IS marked by just such a series of volcanic cataclysms. 
Little heed has been paid to Strindbcrg's early 
dreams for social betterment, as embodied in his 
Swiss Tales. They form a cardinally suggestive 
link in the chain of his spiritual evolution; for after 
this one flight into the blue of social idealism, Strind- 
berg reverts to the passionate individualism which 
signalizes his greatest work throughout his career. 
Yet, it is something added to our conception of 
Strindberg, this knowledge that Strindberg fiercely 
protested against the human servitude imposed by 
[the material conditions of modern life. Civiliza- 
tion has been paid for too dearly — thus early 
Strindberg speaks in resonant tones. As a social 
reformer, Strindberg showed himself to be pure 
communist. Abolish private ownership, and re- 
quire"^ every man all that in reason and in con- 
science he can bring himself to contribute. The 
European dynasties must go, In the interest of the 
future of the average man; militancy must yield to 
the visionary ideal of world-peace. This strange 


anomaly of the Berserker-like Strindberg pre- 
visaging the tranquil communist state of the far 
future has a certain piquant charm — the charm of 
naiVe inconsistency. The optimistic spirit of the 
utopist expires in the bosom of the temperamental 
pessimist. The later Strindberg sinks to the mean 
level of crass actuality and of individual strife, 
bafflement and trial. 

There is no other striking or revolutionary event 
in the period from 1872 to 1877 which furnishes 
indicative prophecy of the later Strindberg. Per- 
haps some suggestions of later tendencies and dis- 
positions are found here and there. Strindberg is 
essentially a pathological phenomenon; as subjec- 
tivist, his instinct for self-revelation arises from the 
felt need to express his own development as it is 
affected by the personalities of odiers, or by new 
social and religious influences. Those are prophetic 
words which he speaks at the farewell banquet on 
leaving the University, words foreshadowing the 
philosophy of acquisitiveness associated with Strind- 
berg : " A personality does not develop from itself, 
but out of each soul it comes in conts^ct with it sucks 
a drop, just as the bee gathers its honey from a mil- 
lion flowers, giving it forth eventually as its own." 

It is customary to speak of Master Olof, written 
in 1872, as Strlndberg's first great drama; but its 
distinction was and is, not international, but local. 
It marked an epochal development in the literature 



of Sweden,' as we can easily recognize to-day; but 
at the time, criticism was scathingly derogatory. 
Once more, the creative impulse in Strindberg 
seemed to be stifled, throttled for a time by the 
powerful hand of hostile criticism. After failures 
one after another to win success in journalistic hack- 
writing, Strindberg finally secured a post as assistant 
at the Royal Library>/\ This position, of modest but 
assured income, enabled him to devote his leisure 
hours to research — notably among Chinese parch- 
ments as yet uncatalogued. The restless energy of 
the man is betrayed in his study of the Chinese 
language, and the monographs which he wrote deal- 
ing with the relations between China and Sweden in 
the eighteenth century — which won him recogni- 
tion from scientific bodies, such as the French Insti- 
tute and the Russian Geographical Society. 

Now supervenes one of those crucial events which 
affects a revolution in the life of a man, so deeply 
personal in his art and feeling as was Strindberg. 
This was the acquaintanceship formed by Strindberg 
with the wife of Baron Wr angel. The attachment 
instantaneously formed became more intimate; and 
finally the divorce of the Baroness enabled Strind- 
berg to exchange the role of lover for that of hus- 
band, the marriage taking place December 30, 1877, 
when Strindberg was twenty-eight years old. When, 
in the following year, Master Olof was at last ac- 
cepted for publication, Strindberg gave free vent to 


his suppressed resentment over the long delayed 
recognition of his genius, in the tremendous satire ^ 
The Red Room. This was a "work of conflict," 
a satirical protest against cultural conditions in the 
Sweden of that day. Surcharged with the sardonic 
spirit of the scorner, it is a great pang of reaction 
against a world driven by the force of " vital lies." 
Its ruthless exposure of contemporary social strata 
vitiates it as a work of art. Yet we are left with 
the startled consciousness that here is a great per- 
sonality, shooting up out of the sea of mediocrity, 
and aiming terrible blows at modern degeneracy in 
character, motive, and impulse. Its. trenchant 
motto, after Voltaire, in view of Strindberg's 
threatened neglect, was astutely chosen : Rien n^est ^ 
si desagreahle que s'etre pendu obscurement. ^ -' ./ . ' ' 

The first years of Strindberg's married life were 
undoubtedly happy — certainly in the passional 
sense, if not in the restful consciousness of hallowed 
union. There is a naive admission of the character 
of the union in his description of himself as being 
in a " happy erotic state." If the cloud on the do- 
mestic horizon was no bigger than a man's hand, 
there were fierce storms of controversy about his 
head which finally decided him to leave Sweden in 
1883. He lived for a time in France, later re- 
moving to Switzerland, where he wrote the two re- 
markable collections of stories published under the 
title of M^riage. 



At this period, Strindberg was moved to conscious 
revolt against the extravagant idealization of woman 
which was sweeping, over Europe in the wake of 
Ibsen's A Doll's House. His own marital rela- 
tions — for Strindberg was always essentially per» 
sonnel — were likewise a stimulant cause for his 
choice of subject. As he looked about him, he saw 
women everywhere living parasitical lives — taking 
no real part in the work of civilization. Under nor- 
mal conditions, the social growth of woman was 
dependent upon their acquisition of the suffrage — • 
this he frankly realized and advocated. His real 
attack was directed against the type of women 
lauded by those who were everywhere advancing 
the " equality madness '* — women who in their un- 
reasoning struggle for liberty were forsaking the 
privileges and the obligations of their sex. Strind- 
berg made his first intimate studies of women and 
marriage, inspired by no hatred for the • sex, but 
urged by a sort of innate reverence for woman as 
the mother of the race, the creative and regenera- 
tive force of civilization. He saw a generation 
making a religion of the woman-cult ; and his own 
words adequately describe his point of view: " God 
was the remotest source; when He failed they 
grasped at the next, the Mother. But then they 
should at least choose the real mother, the real 
woman, before whom, no matter how strong his 
spirit, man will always bow when she appears with 


her life-giving attributes. But the younger genera- 
tion had pronounced contempt for the mother, and 
in her place had set up the loathsome, degenerate 
Amazon — the blue-stocking I " In his almost old- 
fashioned veneration for woman as the creative 
force of life, he totally lost sight of the cruel in- 
equality imposed upon woman by a man-made civil- 
ization. That is a secret shape of reaction which 
pretends to see in woman, under contemporary con- 
ditions, a free agent, the co-equal of man in the 
struggle for existence. Woman to-day is not only 
the creature which man, through his innate greed, 
vanity and selfishness persisted in for all the 
centuries, has made of her: she is, in no small meas- 
ure, the creature which she has allowed herself to 
be made into by man. Woman, in Meredithian 
phrase, is the last creature that will be civilized by 
man — since he will fight bitterly with all his 
weapons against that " civilization." 

The criminal proceedings started against the pub- 
lisher of this book, actually for its excessive frank- 
ness in dealing with sexual relations, ostensibly for 
sacrilegious treatment of the established religion, 
eventuated in a verdict of " not guilty," after the 
case had been strenuously fought by Strindberg him- 
self. The result was to give Strindberg a pre-emi- 
nent position in Sweden as a man of letters. Yet 
his satisfaction over the result of the case was sadly 
marred by the consciousness that his purpose in 


writing Marriage, essentially a worthy one, had 
been so grossly misunderstood. 

The condemnation of Strindbcrg as a rank pessi- 
mist and thorough-paced misogynist aroused in him 
a spirit of violent, volcanic opposition. In the first 
volume of Marriage, he had left many things un- 
said which he felt needed to be said about the re- 
lation of the sexes. Moreover, he felt a growing 
sense of disillusionment in his own marital venture. 
These two motives, as well as his revolt against 
the feminist movement in Scandinavia set in motion 
by Ibsen and Bjornson, influenced him to publish a 
second volume of stories, also entitled Marriage, 
which appears at first sight to be nothing short of 
virulent in its animus against woman. It is with 
the publication of this book in 1886, that Strind- 
berg began to be obsessed with the monomania^of 
animadversion against the female sex. The eman- 
cipation he posits for woman is only a partial one 
— since he regards man and woman as funda- 
mentally disparate. It is not equality with man 
which woman needs — social and economic equality ; 
but a limited freedom to realize herself within a 
circle defined by the obligation of motherhood. He 
holds it rank heresy to advocate for woman com- 
plete equality with maa, with its inevitable corol- 
laries of the right to hold property and the right 
to work at any trade for which she fits herself 
by training. Strindberg 4e the powerful leader of 


z whole world of reactionary conservativeSy who 
vehemently maintain that woman should " devote 
her entire interest to the family whidi man works 
to maintain/* 

This second volume of stories, entitled Marriage, 
was the intermediary between those two remarka- 
ble characters, so like in many respects, yet in the 
course of their development so remote — each 
touched with the blight of dementia — Strindberg 
and Nietzsche. In a letter to Peter Cast, Nietzsche 
remarked : " Strindberg has written to me, and for 
the first time I sense an answering note of universal- 
ity." It was at this period that Strindberg con- 
ceive the idea of composing a chain of autobio- 
graphical confessions which might serve as the lay- 
ing bare of a modern soul. His assertion that 
great art must be fundamentally autobiographical 
— a remarkable assertion which finds support in 
the confessions of Ibsen and the latest researches in 
regard to Shakspere — lay at the back of his con- 
ception of such a series of novels. The Bond- 
woman* s Son is an unforgettable picture of the evo- 
lution of personal consciousness in an individual — 
Strindberg — through a minutely detailed succes- 
sion of sordid and squalid happenings. If it is an 
" evangel of the lower classes,'* certainly It portrays 
in all their dark intimacy the devitalizing and re- 
pressive influences emanating from the class in which 
he was born — the atmospheric and actual produc- 


tive causes of certain dominant traits and qualities 
in his own nature. The one clear note sounding 
above the discordant clash of harsh memories is the 
proclamation by Strindberg of conscious superiority 
to the conditions out of which he rose. Strind- 
berg's realization, with certain of the leading spirits 
of the age, of the possibilities of a higher type of 
being, of the superman, found its origin less in 
Nietzsche than in Strindberg's own clear conscious- 
ness of differentiation in himself — the great man 
shooting up above the mean level, the illegitimate 
genius born of the bondwoman. 

There was much attraction for Strindberg, with 
his strenuous individualism, in the conception of the 
far-sighted, self-contained, tolerant type, free with 
the freedom which Nietzsche has defined as the will 
to be responsible for oneself. In his own career 
we seem at times to discern his effort to rise above 
the plane of slave-morality and the herd-man, driven 
by primitive impulses and ruled by chaotic passions. 
Strindberg's ablest artistic formulation of the philos- 
ophy of the superman is his novel At the Edge of 
the Sea, published in 1890, which Hans Land has 
pronounced to be the only work of art, in the do- 
main of Nietzschean morals, yet written which is 
destined to endure. True to his instincts, Strind- 
berg has expressed in the person of Borg his own 
most intense convictions and ideals. Animated 
with an exalted sense of his own superiority, Borg 


revels in lording it over the world of beings made 
of commoner clay. In Nietzsche's conception of 
the Superman, there is something at once lyrical 
and fantastic — the product of decadent romanti- 
cism. Strindberg's incarnation in Borg is more valid 
and comprehensible as a human figure — remind- 
ing us of the Superman shadowed by Bernard 
Shaw, not "beyond man," but Superman in the 
making, the " moral aristocrat " in transition.. 
Strindberg leaves us oppressed with a grim sensej 
of the desperate nature of this new quest — to rise 

superior, under present conditions, to the sheer 
materialism of the " damned compact majority." 
Borg is not the laughing philosopher, but the pre- 
sumptuous egoist — a magnificent, tragic moral 
** high-brow," toppled over by the arrant madness 
of his own individualism. Strindberg, the sincere 
artist, here proves his weakness as a social philoso- 
pher; his system falls to pieces of its own unbal- 
anced weight. Here, as elsewhere, Strindberg! 
reveals himself the disillusioned idealist, acknowl- 
edging the tragedy of social necessity, and unshrink- \ 
ingly delineating the hideous, yet inevitable, pen- / 
alties of contemporary civilization. Antipodal to 
the reflective and anemic mollycoddle, Strindberg 
glorifies the red corpuscle in art, and dares take the 
consequence of inconsequence. 

The next great spirtual crisis through which 
Strindberg passed is revealed in that marvellous, 


yet glaringly personal, revelation, A FooVs Confes^ 
sion (i888). As his animus against the female 
sex, fortified by the attacks upon him by the adr 
vocates of the woman's rights movement in Scan- 
dinavia, became settled into an idee fixe, the re- 
lations between him and his wife became strained 
to the breaking point. He fretted against ^ 
matrimonial bond, seeking again and again to break 
away. The struggle was a titanic one — for deep 
seated within him, preserved intact from childhood, 
was his love for his mother which gave rise to his 
veneration for the conception of motherhood. The 
indestructible link which binds man to woman — 
the children — held him constant for a time; but 
at last the breaking point was reached. The dread- 
fully astute analysis of the torturing conflicts in that 
harassed household is the content of A Fool's Con^ 

The unblushing frankness of this confession can 
only shock, with its basic indiscretion, the American 
reader, nurtured upon ideals of chivalry towards 
woman and shielded by Anglo-Saxon convention 
from the indiscretions of artistic autobiography. 
Even Strindberg himself felt the need of disclaim- 
ing responsibility for what he described as a " ter- 
rible book " ; for he avers, correctly it is believed, 
that it was published in Swedish without his consent, 
and even without his knowledge. Nevertheless, it 
is the most significant exemplification which Strind- 


berg has left of his esthetic doctrine that art is a^^ 
vast arena for experimentation with self. Indeedil 
it may fairly be said that he used all experiences as • 
esthetic material for self-justification. It was the 
fatal weakness of his temperament, as well as of 
his esthetic creed, to generalize from personal data, 
to identify the individual with the universe. It is 
the fundamental weakness of all thesis-literature: 
to put the part for the whole. Like a camera held 
too close to the object, Strindberg throws into 
ghastly disproportion that which is nearest to him* 
No artist of modern times has been so pre-emi- 
nendy successful in the shattering of perspective. 
This confession of a fool is not misnamed — its 
mood is splenetic, atrabiliar, repulsive. Even the 
wonderful psychological skill in recreating experi- 
ences, the diabolic accuracy of the portrayal, cannot 
atone for its lack of refinement, Its essential coarse- 
ness. If there can be any justification for this ex- 
posure of the life of a woman, his wife for thirteen 
years, the mother of his children, it is neither moral 
nor social. It is an esthetic plea for realistic free- 
dom in art. But even an artist's sincere effort to 
depict the struggles of a highly intellectual person 
to emancipate himself from the obsession of sex 
do^s not excuse the grossest violation of the sancti- 
ties of personality. 

The divorte from his wife in 1892 — a step un- 
dertaken only after many struggles and great stress 


of feeling, was momentous in a permanent sras^ 
It is the preliminary to the supreme crisis in Stnnd- 
berg's life. Strindberg was thrice married — the 
second time, to Frida Uhl, a young Austrian writer, 
in 1893, w^^^ whom he lived only a few years; 
and the third time to Harriet Bosse, the Norwegian 
actress, in 1901, from whom he was divorced three 
years later. These two imions appear to have been 
episodes in Strindberg's life — stages in the course 
of his spiritual development For we must realize 
this truth about Strindberg — that life with him 
was a form of excuse for art. An investigatofi a 
jresearch^-worker in the laboratory of the soul, he was 
jwilling to pay the price of the intensest emotional 
^ experiences for the sake of their value as art-stuff. 

Inescapable is th« conviction that in Strindberg is 
presented the dour tragedy of one surrendered to 
self-torture in behalf of art. His life continually ] 
lay shattered in pieces about him because of his ^ 
passionate convictions. Strindberg makes many an ' 
arresting gesture of singularly alluring grac« in his 
marvellous writings — but how dearly bought, how 
bitterly expiated these rapt ecstasies, these alluring 
gestures of fitful passion and melancholic despair I 
If he was ever witty, we feel that Strindberg — to 
employ a phrase of Benedetto Croce — was but ] 
laughingly snatching a nail from a gaping coffin. 

The stress and dissonance of Strindberg's second 
marriage and subsequent divorce was the ultimate. 


the immediate signal for the crisis of the ^^ great 
climacteric " in his life. If we glance for a moment, 
also, at the contemporary spirit with which Strindr 
berg was vitalized, we shall attain to an intuitive 
comprehension of the subsequent confusion, groping 
and ultimate reconciliation of his spirit. From 
childhood, feeling reaction against his environment, 
conscious of his vast superiority to those about him, 
he feverishly struggled to elevate himself to the 
heights. Along with this titanic ambition went the 
hectic dream of idealism — the fanatical search for ^ 
happiness. Guided by titanic ambition, he cast off 
the shackles of provinciality for the freedom of 
cosmopolitanism — seeking to realize himself as a 
great modern master, now in Switzerland, now in 
Germany, now in France. When Germany finally 
hailed him as one of the pre-eminent figures of the 
era, it was a Germany chaotically revolutionary in 
art, in a state of confused transition between head- 
long repudiation of the old, uncertain grasping after 
the unrealized new. The old beauties were no 
longer beautiful, the new truths no longer true. 
With the fierce zeal of the creator, the pioneer in 
art, Strindberg produced works which enraptured 
Germany and Europe, not less for their highly- 
colored tendency than for their artistic depth and 
validity as creations of enduring art. Without 
stressing the features of the change, it is indubitable 
that Strindberg finally reached the stage of disillu- 


stonment. Of life, he demanded happines$, the hap* 
pihess of the marital state, with wife and children; 
but he forfeited the happiness that might perhaps 
have been his because he was never able to accept 
things as they are, never willing to surrender him- 
/ self to life's immitigable conditions. For him, it 
j was an impossibility, in Nietzsche's phrase, to say 
' Aye to the Universe. One only hazards the sur- 
' mise that, had Strindberg been capable of such self- 
abnegation, he might have developed into a great, 
^ strong, sweet soul, profoundly sympathetic with his 
fellow-beings, vibrant with comprehension of, com- 
miseration for, human foibles and frailties. There 
were depths, profundities in Strindberg's nature, 
both as man and artist, which called to answering 
depths, profundities in human consciousness. His 
recognition of the ultimate futility of his marital ex- 
periences was no less pronounced in his career than 
his recognition of the instability of naturalism in art 
as a formula. At last he came to the full realiza- 
tion of the discrepancy between what life and the 
era had to offer him, a realization of the prof oundest 
potentialities of his own nature and genius. 

It was in this spirit — the spirit of one who flees 
to sanctuary — that Strindberg sought Paris in 
1894. His old absorption in chemistry, the desire 
to surprise the mystery of atom, molecule and ele* 
ment, once more came over him. Along with it 
came the stirrings of the equally imperious impulse 


-~to surprise the mystery of faith, conscience and 
religion, and to merge himself in that spiritual world- 
consciousness which William Blake many years be- 
fore had foreshadowed with the power and imagina- 
tion of the seer. It was only another phase of i 
Strindberg's life of disillusion that Paris had not 
to give him that which he sought* With this period 
of his career, it is virtually impossible to speak with 
critical authority, for there is no tracing, accurately, 
the tlun line demarking the sound, the sane, from 
the obsessed, the hallucinated. There is abundant 
evidence of his lack of balance in his feverish wan- 
derings in the mazes of the cruder forms of occult- 
ism. A Strindberg caught fast in the meshes of a 
weird complex of French mysticism and American 
theosophy I 

To follow Strindberg through the Slough of De- 
spond of his Paris days and after, one should read 
those strange, harassing books. Inferno, Legends, 
and Alone. Wonderful as are these works, viewed 
as the autobiographic confessions of a great creative 
artist, they chiefly serve as records of mental and 
spiritual obsession. Surely, here was madness to 
genius close allied. For it was not legitimate re- 
search in which Strindberg was absorbed, but 
pseudo-scientific superstition; not chemistry, but al- 
chemy. His concentration upon the problem of the 
transmutability of elements, however, is just now be- 
ginning to appear in a more rational light, in view of 



the interpretation, by Sir William Ramsay, of some 
of his own discoveries. Strindberg's fascinated con- 
centration upon the problem of religion, salvation 
and the future life is of a piece with his studies In 
alchemy — both are pathological symptoms. Shaken 
to the very centre of his spiritual existence by a close 
study of Swedenborg, Strindberg groped vainly about 
for spiritual consolation and the poetic certitudes of 
faith. His was a religion of tortured searching 
after spiritual faith. As he sought scientific truth 
in alchemy, so now he seeks spiritual truth in the 
obscurities of a hazy occultism. Surely at this time 
Strindberg's intellectual and psychical centres must 
have been in very unstable equilibrium. It was not 
the eternal verities of religion which drew him after 
them, but its transitory delusions, the speculations 
of mysticism — psychic states, second sight, tele- 
phatic communications, obsessions. There could be 
no permanent consolation in the problematical 
phenomena of spiritualism; and in the end Strind- 
berg emerged triumphant from the Slough of De- 
spond. In answer to his deep spiritual need, his 
profoundly felt longing for certitude, there finally 
came to him a gently consolatory faith — that faith 
which he pathetically describes in Alone as " a con- 
dition of the soul and not of the mind." With a 
consciousness fundamentally conscientious, a spirit 
innately religious, Strindberg may be said to have 
spent his life vainly listening for life's harmonies, \ 


vainly endeavoring to discover some latent, Internal 
interdependence between the spiritual forces of the 
universe. That inner harmony discovered by Mae- 
terlinck, the gentle optimist, was forever barred 
from the vision of Strindberg, the passionate pessi- 

In Strindberg^s works of fiction, polemic, social, 
autobiographical, one seems to follow the errant 
pilgrimages of a soul distraught with the obsession \ 
of existence. It is the ancient cry from the depths : \ 
" Oh 1 that this too, too solid flesh would melt ! ** » 
In Strindberg, the dramatist, one encounters the ti- 
tanic struggles of an almost superhuman intellect, 
fretting vainly against the bars of life's mysteries. 
With every concession made to the fatal lack of 
balance, the futurist distortion of perspective, it 
must be granted that Strindberg was singularly! 
original in genius and at the same time singularly' 
consistent in his interpretation of the riddle of life, j 
There is no error so crass as that of presuming, withl 
hasty generalization, that Strindberg was essentially! 
eccentric — dementedly swinging off from the cen- ; 
tral realities of life. This inner meaning of Strind-} 
berg's temperament lies at the very heart of hist 
nature, which pulsed violently in the midst of the* 
most fantastic realities. Never did artist so per- 
sistently cleave to the centre of his own being in his 


effort to project for the world's inspection the inner 
significance of contemporary existence. Strindberg 
is the most ego-centric dramatist who has ever lived. 
If Shakspere was actually, as Mr. Frank Harris 
vehemently implies, the Strindberg of the Eliza- 
bethan era, by the same token is Strindberg the 
Shakspere of the Nietzschean age — a supremely 
daemonic bohemian of the soul. 

It was Strindberg who embodied in his own per- 
sonality the affirmative answer to Nietzsche's sin* 
ister query : " Why should not life be intolerable ? " 
In him was a spirit of divine discontent, of volcanic 
denial — raging fiercely against the evils revealed 
to his searching gaze and giving no quarter to his 
adversaries. One of the most conclusive proofs of 
his greatness is the fact that no one has yet succeeded 
in taking the measure of his stature. He is that 
miracle in the hierarchy of genius — an incommen- 
surable force in the intellectual and spiritual economy 
of the universe. Strindberg has been called the 
only dramatist of genuinely Shaksperean order in 
modern ,times — assuredly true in the dramatic 
sense that in the consciousness of no other contem- 
porary dramatist do conflicts, antitheses, crises, 
emanate such trenchant, virile reality. The secret 
of his marvellous appeal is his headlong participa- 
tion in the destinies of his dramatic characters. It 
is because he threw himself so vehemently into the 
arena of dramatic struggle and dramatized his own 


tremeudous struggle that his art works seethe with 
such vital force and energy. 

The primitive force of Strindberg starts into eager 
life in the early play, The Outlaw (1872) and fore- 
shadows the leonine genius. The delicate beauty 
of womanhood, the enduring strength of loyalty, 
the tenacious rectitude of rude, primitive force — 
all are rendered with trenchant economy of means 
in this " dramatic experiment." Thus early Strind- 
berg foresaw the virtue of intensive concentration 
of treatment — fusing an incohesive, scattered play 
of five acts into a single, organic play of a single act. 
Thorfinn, the heroic Norseman, adamantine in his 
barbaric strength, is shattered against the passive, 
supreme invincibility of the Christian ideal, the 
dawning ideal of the age. Says Orne to Thorfinn: 
" It is the age you have warred against, and that 
has slain you — it is the lord of the age, it is God 
who has crushed you." There is tragic majesty in 
the death of Thorfinn, who lacks the superhuman 
strength " never to regret anything one does " ; and 
in dying, expiates and atones with a blessing upon 
his daughter, Gunlod, a convert to Christianity, 
and her lover, Thorfinn's enemy. In yielding to the 
strength of supreme emotion, he yields in symbol his 
heart's blood — realizing at the last the divine force 
of woman's love. For "woman thinks, not with 
her head, but with her heart. That's why she has a 
smaller head, but .a bigger breast than man." 


Upon one occasion, I 'was conducted by Mrs. Ibsen 
into her husband's study at the apartment on the 
Victoria Terrace, in Kristiania ; and there, above the 
mantel, was hanging a magnificent oil painting of 
August Strindberg. As presiding genius of the 
place, this impressive figure with noble head and 
tragic, haunting eyes seemed to dominate the room. 
Asked why he gave the place of supreme honor in 
that laboratory of the dramatic spirit to the titanic 
Swede, Ibsen — I was told by the querist — replied : 
^ " The man has a fascination for me — because he 
is so subtly, so delicately mad." There was some- 
thing far deeper than this which caused the electric 
interaction between these two geniuses — so anti- 
podal in temperament, yet so cognate in the faculties 
of intuitive perception and searching introspective- 
ness. Ibsen, Bjornson, Strindberg — the three 
Scandinavian geniuses — each felt the mental pres- 
sure of the others, and responded to it. There 
yet remains to be written the history of that period 
in Scandinavian literature which shall reveal the in- 
fluences these three exerted, the one upon the other. 
Certainly The Outlaw, if nothing else of Strind- 
berg's, was suggested by Bjornson's Between the 

During the period from 1872 to 1884, the strong- 
est indications appear of the influences Strindberg and 
Ibsen, more or less consciously, exerted upon each 
other. In The Pretenders (1862), Ibsen projects 


the conflict between two strong temperaments — Ha- 
kon, the Incarnation of innate confidence, and Skule, 
the introspective and brooding Hamlet type ; and the 
latter, after appropriating the former's intuitional 
conception and winning temporary success, ultimately 
goes down in tragic defeat, wrecked through his lack 
of faith in himself and his consciousness of guilt. 
This play must have exerted a powerfully sugges- 
tive influence upon Strindberg in the composition of 
Master Olof, originally entitled, more adequately. 
The Renegade. In Ibsen's play there is something 
schematic and artificial in the psychological basis of 
the action; Strindberg outstrips Ibsen in portraying 
a central figure more closely attuned to the temper 
of modern social feeling. The hero of Strindberg's 
play is a renegade because, like Peer Gynt, he yields 
to the blandishments of compromise, and in order to 
prepare the way for the ultimate realization of his 
larger purpose, strikes the banner of his ideal to 
sheer necessity. The philosophy of expediency of- 
tentimes yields more tangible, more practically pro- 
ductive results ; yet the seer, in whom we discern the 
spiritual lineaments of Strindberg, holds a renegade 
he who sacrifices to transient and temporal success 
the magic, affective force of the ideal. The proto- 
type of the modern woman, of the Nora of A Doll's 
House, IS found full-fledged in this same play — a 
remarkable evidence of the prophetic modernity of 
Strindberg's social vision. Strindberg's anticipation 



of Ibsen, which in this case takes the form of a sin- 
gle type, is more conclusively evidenced in The Secret 
of the Guild (1880) , written twelve years before the 
appearance of The Master-Builder. Ibsen's early 
poem. Architectural Plans, must have been far less 
germinative for The Master-Builder than Strind- 
berg's utilization in The Secret of the Guild of the 
building of the tower as a creative symbol in dramatic 
technique. Imperfectly employed by Strindberg, 
this suggestive symbol was utilized by the more ex- 
perienced craftsman with magicianly mastery and 
jFar-reaching suggestiveness. Austin Harrison goes 
so far as to assert : " Through Solness Ibsen spoke 
directly at Strindberg. The much-debated line of 
The Master-Builder, * It is youth that I fear,* was 
aimed across the border at the young Swede, in whom 
Ibsen saw already a peer and a highly dangerous 
rival." Compliment seldom takes so subtle a form 
as the bold utilization of an idea, and the expressed 
I dread of the coming supremacy of its originator, 

y Ibsen owed his debt to this young Norwegian rival 

who fascinated him with his not wholly deranged 
creative originality! In Lady Margit, with its tor- 
rential onslaught upon what he regarded as the es- 
sential defeminization of woman in A Doll's House, 
Strindberg takes his revenge — a polemic in dramatic 
form against the coming reign of the matriarch. 

The most radiant proof of the happy, naive side 
of Strindberg's nature, the grace of his fantasy and 


the delicacy of his imagination, is found in Lucky 
Pehr (1883), an allegorical play in five acts. It 
assuredly influenced Maeterlinck in the writing of 
The Blue Bird — each depicting, in allegorical 
guise, the spiritual progress of youth in the search 
for happiness. In the play of the lively fancy of 
the author, we see the young Pehr, endowed with 
the ring which will gratify all his wishes and under 
the protective care of the gentle, wisely maternal 
Lisa, start forth upon his aimless wanderings. In 
fastastic scenes, irradiated with shrewd philosophy 
and kindly humor, young Pehr, callow, innocently 
selfish, passes alternately from disillusion to disillu- 
sion — thinking naught of others, vainly seeking the 
self-gratification which ever eludes him. His friend- 
ship is sought for his gold, he is betrayed by a 
temptress; he learns the vanity of society, the shal- 
lowness of convention. The lawyer, with light 
cynicism, assures him : " When one through riches 
has risen to the community's heights, one belongs to 
the whole " — a satirical hit at the modern ideal of 
social service. Pehr sees no deeper than to wish 
to be a great reformer — that he may be " honored 
and idolized by the people, and have his name on 
everyone's lips" ! He tries to carry out his reforms 
— but finds every man's hand against him. Even 
the cobbler objects to having flagstones instead of 
cobblestones, because, forsooth, it will " hurt busi- 
ness " — a familiar cry. The pillory is Pehr's final 


refuge as a reformer. His gratified wish to be 
great and powerful ends in like disaster — for in 
order to become ruler he finds that he must sacrifice 
all his ideals for political considerations. There 
is no real liberty, only Constitutional Despotism; 
no religious freedom, only the Established Church; 
no personal liberty, only Court Etiquette; no free- 
dom to marry, only Considerations of State. 
Finally he faces Death — and pleads for life that 
he may search further for happiness among his own 
kind. Death warns him : " You should not seek 
human beings, for they cannot help you." When 
he learns that he who loves only himself can never 
love another, he is on the brink of discovery. Like 
Peer Gynt, he learns to slay the craving to make 
himself the centre around which all others revolve 
— and in the discovery of unselfishness comes safely 
to the glad haven of happiness with the tenderly 
faithful Lisa. The Shadow tolerantly voices 
Strindberg's view: " Life is not such as you saw it 
in your youthful dreams. It Is a desert, that Is true; 
but a desert which has Its flowers ; It Is a stormy sea, 
but one that has Its havens by verdant Isles." 


Strindberg's headlong plunge Into naturalism, 
marked by the appearance of the powerful drama. 
The Father, In 1887, registers a double turning- 
point in his life as artist and man. The mono- 


graphic method of Maupassant and the de Goncourts 
In fiction awoke him to the possibilities of the 
naturalistic drama; and Zola's dramatized novel, 
Therese Raquin, produced by Antoine at his 
Theatre Libre in Paris in 1887, furnished the clue 
for the new departure. Strindberg, ever the inno- 
vator, the Bahnbrecher, not only realized the dearth 
of creative genius and the sterility of invention in 
the drama, but even stood in fear of the threatened 
abandonment of the drama as a decaying form, in 
our time " when the rudimentary, incomplete 
thought processes operating through our fancy seem 
to be developing into reflection, research and 
analysis." Like Zola, he was ripe for rebellion 
against the prevailing artificial comedy, " with its 
Brussels carpets, its patent-leather shoes and patent- 
leather themes, and its dialogue reminding one of 
the questions and answers of the catechism." 

Strindberg's revolt was experimental in the deep- 
est senae — in the same sense in whirfi Zola speaks 
of the experimental novel. The dramatist of the 
era seemed to have become a mere absorptive spirit, 
who vulgarized his art for the sake of rendering 
it intelligible to and effective with the masses. This 
reduction of electric genius to so many candle power, 
in order to penetrate the consciousness of intellectual 
mediocrity, revolted Strindberg. His own ideal was 
the precise reverse — to express his originality with 
pristine clarity and to achieve the most Intensive, 


concentrated effect through bringing his complex and 
multiplex ideas to a burning, focal point. 

About him he saw everywhere the predominance 
of the stereotyped in character-drawing, the prev- 
alence of the static character — artificial automata, 
dummies labelled with a tag, incapable of change, 
development, growth. The hope for the drama — 
the drama which Ibsen and Bjomson at this time 
were so triumphantly creating in new, mobile forms 
— lay in the enlargement of the conception of char- 
acter, the objectification upon the stage of the 
dynamically evolutionary modern soul, such as 
Strindberg felt himself personally to be. Like 
Nietzsche before him, like Bergson to-day, Strind- 
berg intuitively felt the pressure of the concept of 
[creative evolution — seeing in the modern human 
j temperament a viast complex of thought currents, 
emotive impulses — often self-cpiitradictory» incon- 
sequent, atavistic and yet instinctively vital, fervent, 
intense. Instead of regarding, chaxacter as fixed, 
and the age as stationary, he determined to show 
both in flux. His characters may justly be described, 
in a German phrase, as the U ebergangsmenschen 
einer Uebergangszeit — transitional beings in a 
transitional era. 

It is characteristic of Strindberg that, in his effort 

to jJortray the most vital, most intense form of con- 

; flict, he should instinctively find his dramatic theme 

\ in the torturing conflicts of his own family life. 


Between Strindberg and his first wife, two highly in- 
dividualized, fundamentally antipathetic characters, 
vital differences presented themselves — on the 
subject of feminism, woman's right to unbridled 
freedom, the direction and control of children, the 
relative measure of the sexes. InJuOih^Mar 
with the sub-title Sir Bengl^s /iTi/tf, ahistofical play 
of the Reformation period, Strindberg had already 
revealed, in pitiless^ glacial analysis of a woman's 
soul, his intokrant attitude towards the modern type 
of the denaturized feminine. And yet, with all its 
implacability, it does not prepare us for the shock- 
ing figure of Laura in The Father. Here is re- 
vealed the fundamental weakness of the thesis- 
drama; for we cannot accept as representatively 
human a character reproduced with diabolic exacti- 
tude from a real person, who was almost certainlyj 
degenerate, and whom Strindberg hated as the in- 
carnation of all that woman, the ideal woman, should 
not be. 

T^ Fathe r is a drama of the most powerfully 
intensive struggle, on the plane of mental sugges- 
tion—the supreme drama of its kind. These 
characters live with feverish and intense vitality 
— a vitality transfused into them from Strindberg's 
own powerfully vibrant being. Cut them, and they 
will palpably bleed — the blood of martyrs and im- 
penitents. We achieve immortality through the 
transmission of personality and faith to our posterity 


— the greatest mission, in Strindberg's eyes, is the 
mission of paternity. Hence the tragic conflict — 
between the father, fixed in his determination to 
direct and control the future of the child, and the 
mother, endowed with indomitable will, infinitely 
unscrupulous, diabolically cunning. By subtly poi- 
sonous suggestion, the woman implants In the mind 
of the distraught man the deranging doubt as to 
whether he is the father of his child — a doubt 
which grows into the idee fixe of mania. This tre- 
mendous drama can only be fully understood in its 
symbolic guise. It is the terrible plea of the 
elemental male for the rights of fatherhood, the 
patriarchal functions of man as the ruler of the fam- 
ily, holding within his hand the directive control 
of the future of his posterity. In this drama 
Strindberg gives free play to his essentially barbaric 
feelings, and arraigns woman with a ferocity little 
short of hideous. 

We shall, assuredly, do Strindberg a gross in- 
justice if we label him, inconsiderately, a misogynist. 
Laura is a symbolic figure; not the modern concep- 
tion of Everywoman, but a super-real personifica- 
tion of the final possibilities of wickedness in woman. 
Laura is not that " female of the species," more 
deadly than the male, of which Kipling speaks, 
but the incorporation of the Principle of Evil as 
expressed in the attributes of the specific female. 
" Not long ago," says Strindberg- in his remarkable 


Preface to Miss Julia, " they reproached The 
Father with being too sad, — just as if they wanted 
merry tragedies. Everybody is clamoring arro- 
gantly for * the joy of life,' and all theatrical man- 
agers are giving orders for farces, as if the joy of 
life consisted in being silly and picturing all human 
beings as so many sufferers from St. Vitus' dance 
or idiocy. I find the joy of .life in its violent and 
cruel struggles, and my pleasure lies in knowing 
something and learning something. And for this 
reason I have selected an unusual but instructive 
case — an exception, in a word — but a great ex- 
ception, proving the rule, which, of course, will pro- 
voke all lovers of the commonplace." 

^^TT^H^^^rg^fl att?iykff upon wnmnn, so-called, are 
repellarit'^and repulsive in an abnormal degree. It 
is no matter for surprise that he has been classified 
as the arch misogynist, the most radical woman- 
hater in the post-Schopenhauer era. He struck out 
ferociously against the woman-ideal of Ibsen's Nora, 
the " silly, romantic provincialism of Ibsen'^ epicene 
squaw." In his revolt against the position of 
Ibsen, he unhesitatingly said : " My superior intel- 
ligence revolts against the gyneolatry which is the 
latest superstition of the free-thinkers." 

He could not regard with patience the movement 
for woman's emancipation, seeing in it an effort to 
dethrone Man in favor of Woman. The brute male 
in him revolted at the thought of seeing man, the 


" generator of great thoughts," the creator of 
modern civilization, displaced by woman whose in- 
tellect, as yet undeveloped, still belonged to the 
bronze age. He regarded the male as superior in 
intellect to the female, but weaker as an antagonist, 
owing to the imperfect and undeveloped moral sensi- 
bility of the female. 

Comrades , arresting, brutal, is the cheapest thing 
that Strindberg has done. Again it is an arraign- 
ment of woman — a lightly sardonic resumption of 
the idea that woman is inferior to man, incapable 
of final rectitude, lacking that delicacy of con- 
science, that " moral elegance," which man wears 
like a plume! These are admirably drawn, burn- 
ingly living, yet repulsively ignoble figures — it 
would be nothing short of farcical to see in each a 
typical specimen of their respective sexes — man, 
honorable, sympathetic, self-sacrificing ; woman, 
treacherous, deceptive, feline. It is the philosophy 
of the cave man done over in modern terms; and the 
primitive woman actually likes it here when the cave 
man uses the club ! The Strindberg woman is cap- 
tivated, won by man-handling — she would be; but 
imagine the result of brute force tried on a gentle- 
woman ! 

It is, however, the gravest error to confuse 
Strindberg's attitude towards woman, carried to 
abnormal extremes of polemic in his fierce reaction 
against the '' new woman " propaganda of Scan- 


dinavia, with his own personal attitude towards 
woman of the ideal type present in his own conscious- 
ness. That abnormal sexuality which Laura Mar- 
holm attributes to Strindberg, resulting in funda- 
mental sex-aversion, was probably only an apparent, 
and not an actual, abnormality of nature. Like the 
youthful Tolstoi, Strindberg as a young man in- 
dulged in orgiastic sexual excesses, with the in- 
evitable result of brushing off forever the bloom 
from the surface of erotic life. The whole course 
of Strindberg's works shows him essentially clean, 
if subtly plebeian, in his feelings about sex. 

Miss Julia is one of the most startling, most 
shocking plays of our era; but its ugly theme is its 
chief reason for existence. In his notable Preface, 
Strindberg — who really seems to have influenced 
Bernard Shaw in several striking respects — gives 
the most elaborate explications of the purpose, 
meaning, and significance of the tragedy. And yet, 
after all, the preface is a tricky means of eking out 
the deficiencies of the play. It may well be imagined 
that Julia would never have yielded had it not been 
for her condition; yet never a hint. of it is found in 
the play itself. Then there is the artificial conflict 
suggested by the two strata of society — artificial 
because whilst Julia falls, even to' death, a victim 
of progressive inbreeding of diseased stocks, Jean 
climbs not at all, instinctly servile, cringing at the 
sound of the master's bell. This " half-woman," 


as Strindberg calls her, Is a vanishing type, perish- 
ing eventually " either from discord with real life, 
or from the irresistible revolt of her suppressed in- 
stincts, or from foiled hopes of possessing the man." 
Miss Julia is no stranger to America, often piqued 
to forbidden curiosity by the spectacle of the woman 
of society eloping with her chauffeur. 

It was the tragedy of Strlndberg's life never to 
rise above the sex-disillusionment which came from 
early excess. * This was the penalty paid in full 
measure by one thrice married and thrice divorced. 
He was never able to awake in another a pas- 
sion as Intense as his own. In becoming the su- 
preme specialist in modern eroticism he sacrificed 
the possibility of making the great discovery — of 
simple, enduring human love. There Is no more 
tragic figure in modern times than this Knight of the 
Sorrowful Countenance, with pallid lips and stricken 
gaze, " dementedly wandering from Venusburg to 

In his own consciousness, woman was worthy of 
all veneration — a veneration instinctive In him 
from his earliest childhood. Life itself cruelly per- 
sisted in the effort to shatter that Illusion of his 
youth. I The artist, the idealist In Strindberg ro- 
mantically endowed woman with the supreme virtues 
— loyalty, faith, devotion, rectitude, moral in- 
tegrity — and painted her as man's equal In Intel- 
ligence, his superior in nobility. When life betrayed 


his faith, and the age threatened to enthrone above 
man this creature Strindberg had discovered to be 
so full of weakness and frailty, he burst forth in 
passionate protest, which was only a secret form of 
vindication of his own ideal of womanJr\ His atti- 
tude towards woman — towards the type to-day ex- 
pressed in the term militant suffragette — was not 
only ungallant, unchivalric: it was splenetic, atra- 
biliar. In his view of the sexes, woman is man's in- (. 
ferior in the life-scale — as yet undeveloped in intel- 
lect, artistic perception, and moral power; but he 
considers this biological inferiority counterbalanced 
by other specific indicia of the female — fixity of pur- 
pose, endless endurance, subtle calculation. Strind- 
berg pays woman the high honor of holding her to 
be a foeman worthy of the sharpest steel of man. 
He holds woman fully worthy of man as an antagon- 
ist in the duel of sex. In his plays, woman fights for 
her own hand with unlimited will-power and in- 
tellectual skill. 

Strindberg can- only be properly understood if we 
realize that the duel of sex is not always a contest for 
sex supremacy. It is a contest, as Strindberg so 
diabolically shows in Creditors, of the woman 
for the right to illicit gratification of her own 
instincts — regardless of honor, fidelity, or modesty. 
Or It may be, as in The Link, a mortal strug- 
gle for the possession of the child. There was 
never a more realistic fragment of concentrated life 


than 2^^ Link — a virtual replica of Strindberg's 
own suit for divorce from his first wife. One by 
one, the curtains are drawn aside; and these two 
human souls, fighting like animals for the child that 
binds them together, stand at last in utter nakedness 
— separated by an abyss like a yawning hell. In 
the words of the pilgrim to his former wife, in 
Damascus: **We love. Yes, and we hate* We 
hate each other, because we love one another; we 
hate each other because we are linked together; 
we hate the link, we hate love ; we hate what is most 
lovable because it is also the most bitter, we hate 
the very best which gives us this life." In the 
haunting words of Oscar Wilde : 

" Some kill their love when they are young, 
And some when they arc old ; 
Some strangle with the hands of Lust, 

Some with the hands of Gold: 
The kindest use a knife, because 
The dead so soon grow cold." 

It is almost incredible that Strindberg never set 
his ideal woman before us on the stage. PrevlsicBis 
of this feminine ideal are found in certain of the 
early plays — in such a character, for example, as 
Gunlod in The Outlaw. And yet this ideal of 
Strindberg's may definitely be disengaged, after a 
study of his works. For Strindberg has the antique, 
patriarchial conception of the family, with its ven- 


eration for the woman as wife and mother. Sur- 
passing man in tenderness, in temperamental clever* 
ness, with greater breadth of horizon, wider human- 
itarian concern, woman must nevertheless remain, 
in Strindberg's view, within the boundary of her* 
own " sphere." Woman is a tremendously power- 
ful original source of human energy, to which man 
must ever recur to escape annihilation — the inter- 
mediary between man and the child, upon which the 
world's future depends. 

HavingTthen, this genuine ideal of womanhood, 
this old-fashioned conception of woman as mother 
and mate, Strindberg seems strangely illogical in 
giving us a gallery of hideous female types — in- 
carnations of beasts of prey, deadly monsters, the 
hyena woman, the blue-stocking cocotte. The rea- 
son is not far to seek — inexplicable and damning 
as is the evidence to the contrary. With an im- 
perfectly developed historic sense, so far certainly 
as concerned the subject of woman's economic and 
spiritual evolution, Strindberg was too arrant a wor/ 
shipper of man as the creator of all that civilization 
has wrung from barbarism, ever to see that woman) 
as she is to-day, is in large measure the handiworkj 
the creature of this same admirable myth — th^ 
perfect man. If Strindberg's women are charac^ 
teristic and representative figures of our era — 
which God forbid I — man cannot shirk the responsi- 
bility for these damming symptoms of man-made 


civilization. Strindberg's women are not typical of 
the female species, symbolic representations of 
4 Everywoman. T|jej_ax£..5Eecific, isolated, yet none 
the less actual, existent, typesoF?eminine degenera- 
tion, fatally symptomatic of our own era in world- 
civilization. They are the most eloquent briefs 
in behalf of militant suffragism. Woman rightly 
seeks to shatter man's control over the processes of 
civilization, and to share it with him — to obviate 
the recurrence of the types of women which Strind- 
berg has projected into the focus of modern con- 


: ^ The historian of the contemporary drama of the 
V past quarter of a century must recognize in August 
Strindberg a creative and original genius, of many- 
hued, radiant brilliance. In particular, his achieve- 
ment in the field of the one-act drama on the stage 
^ of an intimate theatre has been nothing less than 
I epoch-making. His method of focal concentration, 
of magnification of interest through intensiveness of 
treatment, imparts to even his briefest efforts the 
most complete illusion of reality. In his esthetic 
creed, the dramatist must be a magician,. a hypnotist, 
weaving about the spectator a spell of atmospheric 
illusion which holds his attention with the utmost 
fixity. By the elimination of all superfluity in the 
Stage sets and the scenery, the dramatic figures ap- 


, pear as integral, organic parts of their surroundings. 
These one-act plays of Strindberg's are essentially 
psychological, even psychical, or fantastic in tone; P^ 
they may present an allegory or a realistic glimpse 
of life at a crucial point. The *' stage-business " of 
the mechanical order is virtually eliminated ; the play 
of emotion, the movements In the depths of char- 
acter, are portrayed less by outcries or by violent 
gestures, than by the play of facial expression, in- 
dicative through mobility. 

Strindberg's one-act plays have a strong cast of 
Maeterlinck about them — they are soul-interiors \ 
thrown for a brief space into glaring illumination. 
The Stronger, in which only two female characters 
appear, one remaining silent throughout reading a 
newspaper, is a remarkable dramatic monologue — 
the thoughts passing through the mind of the silent 
one mirrored as it were in the words of the speaker. 
The one actress in a flash of intuition, realizes the 
price she has paid for her husband — who is the 
lover of the other actress. All her tender little 
acts of solicitude for her husband — hideous 
mockery 1 — were indirectly suggested by the taste 
of the " other woman '* — even to the tulips em- 
broidered on his slippers. But she will never break 
with her husband — because the other woman seeks 
and desires it. This it is to be the stronger. 

There is the fascination of psychological detec- 
tion of crime in Pariah, a dialogue between two men, 


Mr. X and Mr. Y, — which in a few brief exchanges 
of ideas gives a complete presentment of two well- 
defined characters — one, the man of courage and 
essential integrity, who has killed another and feels 
no pangs of conscience because he realizes its acci- 
dental character; the other, the coward and con- 
temptible blackmailer, who has forged a note and 
cannot find within himself the saving grace of self- 
exculpation. There is. the kindly, yet sharp, accent 
of satire in Debit and Credit — the man who has 
reached the pinnacle of fame in his profession sud- 
denly finding all the obligations of his past rising with 
accusing hands before him — his brother demands 
the payment of the loan which he has long evaded; 
his fiancee is proven faithless; his former mistress 
appears to add the last drop of bitterness to his cup. 
A §tiil darker theme — the germ idea of Shaw's 
Mrs. JVarren's Profession — is presented in Mother- 
Love. By degrees, half accident, half design, the 
young girl's faith in her mother iS destroyed, by 
overheard gossip and by the confession of her girl- 
chum, the legitimate daughter of her own father. 
Lacking the businesslike hardness of Vivie Warren, 
this young girl feels life turn black before her In the 
face of the hideous discovery — that she has no 
" father," not because he was faithless to her mother, 
but because her mother, even as his mistress, was 
faithless to him. In all these plays, life rises up for 
one dread instant and speaks its dread lesson — in 


The Burned Lot, that sardonic picture of the shat- 
tering of youthful ideals in the discovery of their 
essential falsity, based on lies and fostered by de- 
ceit; Simoon, sinister paean of revenge, pitched on 
a key of religious fanaticism; The Spook Sonata, 
with its morbidly fascinating concept of the room 
where falsity reigns and life's ugly shams are piti- 
lessly revealed ; The Storm, with its autobiographical 
ring*— no more women, no more taking of mates 
who prove faithless — only peace and the drowning 
of memories. There is wide versatility of talent, a 
fingering of many themes, in these little intimate 
plays, this dramatic form which Strindberg created 
as distinctively as Maupassant and Poe created the 
form of the short-story — masters who exerted a 
powerful influence upon Strindberg. 

To me it has seemed most singular that so gentle 
and beautiful a work of the imagination as Easter 
should have found among American critics no inter- 
preter. Indeed, among English-speaking critics 
this unique art work has found no one to grasp its 
purport or to disengage Its meaning. Yet this is 
the play which gives the clue to the uiiilluded, bal- 
anced Strindberg, instinct with the Christian spirit 
of tolerance, teaching a lesson of life which, had he 
been able to be his own pupil, would have saved 
him from unspeakable anguish. Strindberg's 
** Plays of the Seasons '* — Easter, Midsummer, 
Christmas — are significantly representative of the 


three-fold nature of his temperament, as well as of 
his genius. Easter in its modernity of view-point 
— a sort of Swedish anticipation of the Emmanuel 
Movement — reveals Strindberg teaching the ad- 
vanced lesson of psychic suggestion -i- the imaginary 
character of so many of our woes, the efficacy of 
certain desired, induced mental states. ^ It is vastly 
superior to Christmas, suggestive of the influence 
of Maeterlinck, dour in tone, unrelieved by beauty, 
sweetness and light; or to the almost frivolous 
comedy of Midsummer — in which the bubble of 
youthful folly is pricked to the accompaniment of 
a peal of not unkindly laughter. 

With a sadness not unlightened by subtly humor- 
ous perception, we are shown in E/iitct. ^ family 
living under the shadow of disgrace, from the em- 
bezzlement of the funds of children and widows 
which have been entrusted to the father of the fam- 
ily. With restrained art of the most unobtrusive 
simplicity, the characters stand forth in chiselled dis- 
tinctness — rich in homely virtues, patient, conscien- 
tious, energetic, but all narrowed by the cheap ideas 
of familiar convention, seeing heroes and heroines 
in each other and regarding their critics and creditors 
as the conventional demons and villains of popular 
melodrama. The mother is harassed with the ob- 
session of loyalty — the self-induced conviction that 
her husband was innocent or at least that there 
must have been some flaw in the legal procedure 


which condemned him. Her son Elis, the young 
scholar, distrusts his friend and rival, frets over 
his lot in the most feebly womanish way, and lacks 
faith even in his betrothed, Christina, who tries to 
lift the depressing burden as best she may. Even 
little Benjamin, committed to the charge of the fam- 
ily because of the father's embezzlement of his prop- 
erty, is an indirect victim of the abnormal strain 
imparted to the family's vision — he fails at school 
in his examination. As Easter approaches, a crisis 
seems imminent; the " old gentleman " to whom they 
owe " so much money " is seen regarding the house 
fixidly, and a darker gloom settles down over the 
household in anticipation of the foreclosure. On 
Holy Thursday, the little daughter Eleanora, who 
has been confined to a home for the mentally de- 
ficient, suddenly returns, to work the holy miracle of 
faith, hope, resurrection. She is a psychic of mar- 
vellous powers of insight, whose former violence 
now takes the guise of spirituality, re-enforced by 
the wisdom of the Scriptures, mystic passages from 
which are ever upon her tongue. Undpr the min- 
istration of this gentle spirit, the illusions of con- 
vention vanish away; the scales fall from the eyes of 
all. The old gentleman — with his terrifying blue 
document — breaks down the false pride of Elis by 
forcing him, under threat of foreclosure, to do the 
right, however bitterly his conventional pride and 
false sense of dignity may protest. This, truly, is 


one of the most impressive dramas of suggestion 
ever written — a work of genius in anticipation of 
the later variations on the same theme, of a more 
conventional symbolism, The Servant in the House, 
and The Passing of the Third Floor Back. This ex- 
quisite drama has die movement of psychic forces 
only — the material action is virtually nil. There 
is a profound life-lesson in this play — it is not the 
part of wisdom, nor even of sanity, in the larger 
signification, to live under the obsessions of self-pity, 
penny-plain convention, melodramatic views of con- 
duct, false pride. As the glad mother exclaims: 
" Eleanora the child of sorrow, has come back with 
joy, but not the joy of this world I Her unrest has 
been turned into peace, which she shares. Sane or 
not, for me she is wise; for she understands how to 
bear the burdens of life as we do not." 

Through the subtle suggestiveness of the spirit 
of faith, hope, charity, all regain in the end that 
happy balance which the sane life demands — and 
can look hopefully forward toward the future, a 
future of promise, of readjustment, of manful facing 
of life's grim realities. As Velma Swanston 
Howard, the sympathetic translator of Easter has 
said : ^' No trace of the old bitterness and hatred is 
to be found here. The author reveals a broad 
tolerance, a rare poetic tenderness augmented by 
an almost divine understanding of human frailties, 
as marking certain natural stages in the evolution of 


the soul. ' Clear thoughts, like clear fountains, do 
not seem as deep as they are ; the turbid seem most 
profound.' These words of Richard Lander might 
well be applied to Strindberg. His finest, and 
deepest thoughts are as simple as the Gospels whilst 
it is his turbid thoughts which seem the most pro- 


,jfairy plays, symbolic in guise and 
confesseHiy initiatea under the influence of Maeter- 
linck, reveals the fundamental bent of Strindberg 
towards dramatic empiricism. Essentially an inno- 
vator, an experimentalist in form, Strindberg here 
exhibits his genius in appropriating a given genre, 
conceived in a chosen mood, and by a course of ex- 
perimentation, more or less tentative and imitative, 
achieving a final form peculiarly his own. In The 
Crown BridCj a folk-lore play, reminiscent of 
Heijermanns in richness of local coloring, of Maeter- 
linck and Ibsen in the use of symbolic figures, we 
follow the bitter punishment of a young girl who 
has drowned her offspring before marriage. The 
poor creature is hounded down by her husband's 
relatives, and suffers the remorse and torture of the 
damned. There is an atmosphere of unreality 
about the incidents — Strindberg's persistent realism, 
his almost grotesque denotement of the grim naivete 
and mediaeval superstition of the fisher-folk accord 


111 with the symbolic paraphernalia of the piece. 
The finale is in brighter key, with its promise of 
salvation for the pitiful girl through the redemptive 
power of love. For her, " faith is born in hope," 
when she discovers the '^ greatest thing in life, the 
love of all living creatures, great and small." 

The inequality so apparent in The Crown Bride is 
totally absent from Swanwhite, the " fairy drama " 
published in 1902, and intended as a medium 
for the histrionic genius of Strindberg's third wife, 
the actress, Harriet Bosse. The play has all the 
fanciful stage-properties so familiar In The Princess 
Maleine and other plays of Maeterlinck In his first 
period. Indeed, Strlndberg Is unusually lavish In 
stage directions ; and one almost senses parody in his 
Imperfect employment of the significant brevity, the 
almost puerile monosyllables of Maeterlinck. There 
Is beauty here, faint yet tender; and as in Joyzelle, 
love Is all-triumphant, redeeming even the " wicked 
stepmother " and recalling the " fairy prince " from 
the dead — a^ play, truly, for children, since the 
symbolism is of the most elementary and oIdvIous 
sort. Produced by a Gordon Craig, with splilndid;* 
scenic effects, Swanwhite might well win popular 
success in a Juvenile Theatre. 

Through this experimental and imitative period, 
Strlndberg was slowly forging towards a form of his 
own, far greater and more profound than the models 
before him. The realm of the higher fantasy had 


always beckoned to him — that realm where life in 
all its manifestations instinctively assumes the form 
of parable and prophecy. The most astounding 
testimony to the versatile greatness of Strindberg 
is that he, the most distinctive naturalist which the 
modern dramatic movement has furnished) could 
also write the marvellous fantasy entitled The 
Dream Play. Into it has gone at once his bligiited 
faith in the consolations life can afford and his dis- 
illusionment over the sanctifying and redemptive as- 
pects of existence. This philosophy of life takes 
mystic form through the unroUment of the panorama 
of human destiny — love, marriage, faith, science, 
religion- — before the eyes of a daughter of the\ 
gods who descends to eartL The infinite sadness I 
of human life, the eternal recurrence of its devas- j 
tating duties, the everlasting return of self on self, | 
the rythmic dissonance and discord, the perpetual 1 
bafflement and struggle — all this is revealed through ' 
the strangest of mediums. It is the macrocosm in 
the microcosm — the dream within a dream. All 
is inconsequence ; thoughts ramble concentrically. 
Strange designs emerge with singular distinctness 
from the crazy-quilt patch-work of life. 
^gPhe atmosphei^e is perfectly reflected in the 
aumor's Prefatory Note: " Anything may happen; 
everything is possible and probable. Time and 
space do not exist. On an insignificant background 
of reality, imagination designs and embroiders novel 


patterns: a medley of memories, experiences, free 
fancies, absurdities and improvisations. The char- 
acters split, double, multiply, vanish, solidify, blur, 
clarify. But one consciousness reigns above them 
all — that of the dreamer; and before it there are 
no secrets, no incongruities, no scruples, no laws. 
There is neither judgment nor exoneration, but 
merely narration. And as the dream is mostly pain- 
ful, rarely pleasant, a note of melancholy and of 
pity with all living things runs right through the 
wabbly tale." The play transpires in the hazy, twi- 
light zone of mystic feeling. It is the dramatization 
of unconscious cerebration. The daughter of the 
gods feels in all their force the pangs of life — and 
returns to heaven to lay all human grievance before 
the throne. There seems to be no conception here 
of life as creative evolution, pushing towards higher 
spheres. Life, as Strindberg sees it, is hopeless 
i because it is static, immutable — the same yesterday, 
to-day, and forever. In the depth and reach of the 
imagination, the genius to interpret reality through 
the medium of unreality, this is assuredly one of the 
most marvellous dramatic achievements of modem 
times — unique, incomparable. 

In the key of The Dream Play are written algo 
two other plays of his, so singular in their treatment, 
so fascinating In their power, as to set them apart 
from all the rest of his work. First of these is 
There are Crimes and Crimes, where fantasy and 

4 .^m^x^ m^.^ mrt ^^'^*** 


ihconsequence play their crucial roles, though with 
subtle unobtrusiveness. This play, along with Ad* 
vent, was originally published under the title In a 
Higher Court — a title singularly apt in expressing 
the quintessential meaning. The play is rich with 
the seductive brilliance of life at its most effervescent 
moments -^ a symbol of that intoxication which shat- 
ters balance and causes man madly to sin against 
the light. " The * higher court,' in which are tried 
the crimes of Maurice, Jdolphe, and Henriette/* 
says Mr. Bjorkman, the translator, " is, of course, 
the highest one that man can imagine. And the 
crimes of which they have all become guilty arc 
those which, as Jdolphe remarks, ^ are not men- 
tioned in the criminal code ' — in a word, crimes 
against the spirit, against the impalpable power that 
moves us, against God. The play, seen in this light, 
pictures a deep-reaching spiritual change, leading us 
step by step from the soul adrift on the waters of 
life to the state where it is definitely oriented and 
impelled." This play is deserving of the popularity 
which it has achieved — of high constructive power, 
instinct with a profoundly salutary injunction for 
human guidance. It is a dramatization of the 
workings of conscience — a realization of that uni- 
versal phenomenon to which all human nature is 
heir, the revolutionary illumination of the soul which 
comes through divination of the distinction between 
right and wrong. It has rare interest, subjectively, 


as a reflection of the revolution wrought in Strind- 
berg's own attitude — mirroring a sense of faith, 
hope and love — certitude in the higher reality of the 
divine. " Only through religion," Strindberg has 
confessed, " or the hope of something better, and 
the recognition of the innermost meaning of life as 
that of an ordeal, a school, or perhaps a penitentiary, 
will it be possible to bear the burden of life with 
sufficient resignation." 

The second of these realistic dramas, transfused 
with mysticism, is The Dance of Death — a work so 
powerful in detail, yet so inconclusive in totality, as 
to leave one with a haunting sense of a masterpiece 
unrealized. In stateliness, sweep, and grandeur, it 
ranks with the masterpieces of the Greek drama; 
in naturalism, modernity of outlook, and gripping 
power, it stands unsurpassed in the dramatic liter- 
ature of the era. Life, in a setting of diabolical 
ferocity and hideous struggle, is set nakedly before 
us — in two separate plays, the second but the 
shadow, the reflection of the first. We see the 
drama of existence played out before our stricken 
gaze — the terrible struggles for self-realization, 
arising out of inequalities in condition, incompati- 
bility in temperament; the duel of sex, a duel to the 
death, because of the futile struggle to realize 
unity through diversity, the foreordained tragedy 
inevitable when one individual strives to attain su- 


premacy through the frenzied effort to shatter the 
integrity of another's character. Strindberg has not 
read his Darwin in vain — painting in garish colors 
the blind, relentless warfare of existence, waged 
upon the individual by the immitigable conditions of 
environment. Nor does the clue to life's hopeless- 
ness elude us ever — the pitiless monotony, the re- 
currence and repetition, of spiritual and mental ex- 
perience in the face of all the chances and changes 
of this mortal life. There is no escape from the 
cyclic rhythm of life — as the Captain says : " Wipe 
out — and pass on." Marvellous, tragic image — 
wrought of the incoherence and pitiless sameness of 
experience — inconclusive, as life is inconclusive, 
without enduring, unshaken faith. 


There is one phase of Strindberg's monumental 
activity beyond the scope of the present inquiry — 
the field of national, historical drama. Time will 
show whether the vitality of Strindberg's characters 
will energize works dealing with remote, wellnigh 
forgotten periods of Swedish history. Certain it 
is that these plays are wonderful, not as re-creations 
of historical figures and epochs, but as verisimilar, 
life-like denotements of forceful character in epochal 
situations, individual and national. In every domain 
o{ art, Strindberg has always succeeded in project- 


ing tremendously vital characters — tensely alive, 
subtly neuropathic, strenuous in mental and spiritual 


Nor can it profit us here to study the mystic wan- 
derings and desert pilgrimages of that most pro- 
foundly philosophic work, most confusing medley 
of allegory, parable, autobiography, confession and 
self-exculpation, the trilogy To Damascus. Such a 
work defies even the genius of a Reinhardt'in pro- 
duction — blurring the vision of the "average 
spectator " with its kinetoscopic heterogeneity of 
spiritual films. Yet from it, colossal in its incom- 
mensurability, we learn perhaps best of all the inner 
meaning of Strindberg's nature and soul. 

Strindberg is the supreme universalist of our 
modern era. With all the virile force of his per- 
sonality, the richness of his temperament as artist, 
Strindberg is in essence an analyst, a research- 
worker in the domain of the human spirit. In 
doubt, in the questioning, I had almost said the 
querulous, attitude towards life and the universe, 
Strindberg found the real clue to spiritual progress. 
Beginning as an individualist, with that supreme 
arrogance which he described as the last trace of 
Man's Godlike origin, Strindberg felt for a time 
the Socialist call of the era — only to lapse lagain 
into a more arrant and confirmed individualism, in 
his effort to realize the superhuman ideals of an age 
which produced a Nietzsche and a Blake. A con- 


firmed sceptic, he frankly accepted the doctrine of 
the relativity of truth, and 'sought throu^ experi- 
mentation and self-examination those ^iritual real- 
ties which engender freedom of spirit and en- 
franchisement of soul. Ego-centric, jaundiced, 
moody, full of torturing discontent, he finally paid 
the penalty in the paranoia of that terrible five- 
year interval, obsessed with the chimera of exag- 
gerated egoism, the delusion of referential ideas. 
In his search for the realities of the spiritual life, 
he achieved the miracle of resignation and acceptance 
— abandoning the search for happiness and seeking 
only the strength to endure his fate. Overmastered 
by his dominant weakness, which he described as 
** sensitiveness to pressure,'* he turned frantically, 
now this way, now that, in the blind effort to achieve 
moral certitude; but finally he came to rest, or at 
least resignation, in the consciousness that life is a 
complex of interaction, and that the individual, | 
as part of the universe, has no inalienable ] 
personal " rights " to pleasure and happiness./ 
His life-work is essentially moral in its nature; 
his nature was essentially Christian. However 
splenetic and arrogant his mood, however jaundiced 
and macabre his tone, we BciEevttH^es^ re c o g n i ze in 
him a supreme artist, whose ide»l w«s cultural de- 
velopment ; a moral force in the universe, seeking 
the ultimate redemption of the human soul. Re- 
actionary, primitive in his attitude towards woman, 



at one period in his career painting woman as fiend 
in human form, he was none the less imbued with a 
love for his mother bordering on reverence, a senti- 
ment of deep tenderness for his children. An ideal- 
ist however misguided, it was his tragic fate never 
I to realize or even to comprehend that the clue to 
human happiness is not strife, struggle, doubt and 
denial, but gently humorous acceptance of personal 
limitations and human frailties. Perhaps a vision 
came in the end; for on his deathbed, he said: 
" Now, everything personal is blotted out." Strok- 
ing his daughter's hand, he whispered, " Dear, dear 
Greta 1 " The Bible which he asked for being 
placed in his hand, he murmured: "Now I have 
finished with the book of this world!" His last 
words — the ultimate confession of the catholic 
Christian spirit — as he pressed the Bible to his 
heart, were : " Here is to be found the only true ex- 


*^ In reality my development is thoroughly con^ 
secutive. I myself can indicate the various threads 
in the whole course of my development, the unity of 
my ideas, and their gradual evolution and / . . . 
shall prove to the world that I am the same person 
to-day that I was on the day I first found myself J' 

Henrik Ibsen to Lorentz Dietrichson. 

The Evolution or His Mind and Art 

From the standpoint of present-day America, with 
its gospel of the strenuous life, its tendency to hero- 
worship with the masterful captain of industry for 
hero, its Roosevelts and its Pearys, Henrik Ibsen 
may be said to have lived a singularly uneventful, 
marvellously secluded life. His future biographer 
— for no one has yet succeeded, or even made a 
legitimate attempt to succeed, in mirrorinj; the fea- 
tures of this placid exterior life of crowded inner 
tumuituousness — must match Ibsen himself in pa- 
tience, detachment and single-mindedness. Until 
now, it may fairly be said that the literature con- 
cerned with the life and art of Henrik Ibsen deals 
almost solely with a traditionary figure. This leg- 
endary being is a little crabbed old man, taciturn, 
uncommunicative, even bearish, who occasionally 
broke the silence only to advance his own interests, 
to lash out with envenomed rage at his enemies, or 
else to affront gratuitously the friends and admirers 
who sought to do him public honor. Now that we 



^ * 





are left alone with memories — and reminiscences 
both kindly and malicious, — the spiritual lineaments 
of the Norwegian seer tend to define themselves to 
vision. For the first time, in the light of the reminis- 
cences of his friends and acquaintances, is it becom- 
ing possible to discover the man in his works, and 
to trace some of the many vital threads in the close- 
meshed fabric of his art. In the light, too, of his 
literary remains — piously collected and astutely 
edited by Koht and Elias — one may atlast follow 
his work consistently from first to last in jMchain of 
unbroken sequence, and test the validity of IFsen's 
claim that his development as artist i^con^sistenr,'xini=" 
form, evolutional. Heretofore, the salient details 
of Ibsen's exterior life have been recorded with 
mediate accuracy; and numerous efforts, brilliant, 
mediocre, futile, have been made towards achieving 
the biography of Ibsen's mind. The great work 
which yet remains to be done is to relate the man 
to his work, to discover the real human being who 
lurks behind the cartoons of Vallotton, Laerum and 
Scotson-Clark, the real human heart beating beneath 
the formidable frock-coat of the " little buttoned-up 



America has been prolific in studies^ which betray 
crass unfamiliarity with the surroundings from which 
ll^n sprang, as well as imperfect comprehension 


of the streams of European thought which pro- 
foundly affected his spiritual development The 
real contributions to the knowledge of Ibsen on the 
part of American scholars and critics have been 
concerned, in the main, with Ibsen's technical ability 
and with those inalienable qualities of his art which 
havT rendered him, as a dramatist, unique and dis- 
jtinjiivjj. To Ibsen, the countries which have shown 
most profound regard for his significance gave a 
defining title and character: Norway thought of him 
first as a conservative and later as a radical; Ger- 
many was widely divided between those who classed 
him, respectively, as naturalist, individualist, and 
socialist ; and France abhorred his anarchy while c ele- 
brating his symbolism. Despite the admirable and 
scholarly work of Archer, Gosse, Her ford. Wick- 
steed and others, the brilliant polemics of Bernard 
Shaw, the elevated but sporadic performances of 
Janet Achurch, Elizabeth Robins, and other ex- 
emplars of the modern school of acting, and lastly 
the dignified work of the societies for the promotion 
of the modern drama, Ibsen has never laid the 
" great public " in England under his spell nor as- 
sumed, in the eyes of the reading*ipublic, the dignity 
of a classic. 

There are many and cogent reasons why America 
has never profited by the lessons Ibsen presented 50 
unmistakably to his own and to future generations. 
As individualist, Ibsen could hope to create no up- 


roar in a country which surpasses the countries of | 
the Ibsen social dramas in the production of self- ^ 
assertive individualists. In America there was— - 
and is — no school of acting, classic in finish, classic 
in tradition, to interpret the complex harmonies. of ^^ 
the. Jhstnian dramas. The New Theatre proved 
a failure. Mansfield^s production of Feer Gynt 
was a half-hearted concession to what he regarded 
as a popular craze for the bizarre and the ab- 
normal; and the brilliant performances of Mrs. 
Fiske as Hedda Gabler and of Miss Mary Shaw 
as Mrs. Alving, to mention the most notable achieve- 
ments, reeked too strongly of the unhealthy and the 
distorted to conquer permanently the prejudices of 
American audiences which are nightly flattered with 
the display of brilliant costumes, beautiful but in- 
competent " stars," and heroic-looking, but wooden, 
" matinee idols " for their delectation. Nazimova 
demonstrated that there was an audience in America 
that really relished Ibsen ; and the lists of the most 
popular books at public libraries in America contain 
the plays of Ibsen as a stock number. 

In two notable respects, Ibsen should mean much 
for the present and for the future of American dra- 
matic art. No fear of misunderstanding prevents 
the statement that Ibsen was the first and greatesti 
of the literary muck-rakers of modern dramaJ 
From the turbulent squabbles of Norway as well as 
from the social ferment of Europe, Ibsen drew 


trenchant and Immediate lessons from public con- 1 
duct as well as from personal morals. The Plim-| 
s oil agitation in England fg Ujgflpgr laws regulating U 
tfie insurance of unsea worthy vessels, reflected in the \\l 
press of No rway^ wasi at the back, of The Pillars ol ^\ 
jS^£^£j5iii Thaulow's public propaganda against 
a local society which he deemed fraudulent eventu- 
ated in the fight of Dr. Stockmann for the purifica- 
tion of the baths of his native town. John Gabriel 
Borkman is rooted m th^ ^'^flity fyf ^^r ^^'ly lif c . 
of Nor way i and 'the League of Yo uth fell afoul 
of Bjomson and his coterie. It may be thought that 
Ibsen as ch ampion of individual ema ncipation came 
too late for a coimtry whose greatest boasts are its 
freedom and its scope for the free play of indi- 
viduality. And yet, there are people so critically 
censorious as to maintain that there is no real free- 
dom in America; and that we are bound hard and 
fast by the puritanical formulas of a provincial 
civilization. Freedom of thought in America has| 
in no sense kept pace with license of conduct ; and al 
country which cannot suppress night-riding, lynching 
and mob-violence should not throw stones at Gorki, 
Zola or Mrs. Warren's Profession. America, with 
its Morses and its Walshes, need seek no further for 
wounded titans of finance like Borkman; and the 
Slocum disaster dwarfs the Indian Girl of The PiU 
lars of Society into trivial insignificance. In Dr. 
Charles W. Stiles America can point to a Dr. Stock- 


mann with a nation, rather than a minor waterirfg- 
place, for the field of his inquiry. The most sig- 
nificant lesson of modern democracy in America, 
learned not from Ibsen but from the dire example 
of the American Sugar Company, and a thousand 
other scandals, is that, in its fullest significance, eter- 
nal vigilance is the price of liberty. The literature 
of exposure is never mat a profos in a civilization 
whose protection rests upon perpetual publicity. 

The buoyant youth of America, impressing alike 
a Van Eeden and a Ferrero, is both its strength 
and its weakness. It bespeaks at once America's 
inexperience in self-control and her optimism of 
outlook. America can furnish towns as provincial 
in tone as ever won the amused contempt of Euro- 
pean audiences at the performance of Ibsen's plays 
of Norwegian life; and her political life furnishes 
types of half-baked political leaders no less con- 
temptible and inexperienced than Stensgaard and his 
young men's league. But America is young and 
hopeful, at least; it is not peopled, we are confi- 
dently assured, with soul-sick tragedians mouthing 
their futile protests against the iron vice of environ- 
ment, the ineradicable scar of heredity, the fell 
clutch of circumstance. Ibsen's pathological preoc- 
cupations should have no meaning for America — 
his dalliance with sick consciences, obsessed person- 
alities, wounded souls, disillusioned fatalists. But 
America should take to heart Ibsen's bold challenge 


for individual freedom, his insistence upon moral 
duties, his concern for marriage founded upon equita- 
ble relations between husband and wife/ his claim 
of the individual's right to develop fully and without 
trammel, and lastly, his faith that human love and 
the happiness that it secures for the individual/ 
transcend all the glories of the palace of art, — all\ 
the victories that vaulting ambition can achieve.' 
All that is needed for a real appreciation of Ibsen 
in America is a re-application of these inspiring 
lessons to our youthful, buoyant, optimistic yet in- 
choate society. 

As man, as social thinker, Ibsen has fpr America 
these distinct and salutary lessons. As artist and 
craftsman, his message is no less signal and impera- 
tive. Ibsen's technique is one of the supreme glorias 
of his art; and there can be little dou>r that, in 
certain plays, the technique displayed- is inextricably, 
bound up with the dramatic genius which devised it. I 
But iio would-be dramatist of modern life to-day, in 
its limited environment and in its circumscribed 
sphere, can afford to neglect the study of the tech- 
nique of Hehrik Ibsen. In order to mirror the real 
life of to-day in perfect naturalness, the dramatist 
must realize the evolutional trend of the drama and 
study carefully the/models set by Ibsen for our day j 
and generation. ^Thus will he be the better enabled 
to realize Ibsen's/ideal : " to produce the impression 
on the reader th^t what he was reading was some- 






thing that had really happened." The great secret , 
to be learned from a study of Ibsen's craftsmanship i 
is the way h^bridges over jhej^^ *^^\ 

life by identifying the actiQn.jand the exposition. As 1^ 

ernard Shaw admirably expressed it : " What we 
might have learned from Ibsen was that our fash- 
ionable dramatic material was worn out as far as / 
cultivated modern people are concerned ; that what 
really interests such people on the stage is not what 
we call action — meaning two well-known and rather 
short-sighted actors pretending to fight a duel with- 
out their glasses, or a handsome leading man chas- 
ing a beauteous leading lady round the stage with 
threats, obviously not feasible, of immediate rapine 
— but stories of lives, discussion of conduct, unveil- 
ing of motives, conflict of characters in talk, laying 
bare of souls, discovery of pitfalls — in short, illu" 
minatiott of life. ..." 


It has often been said that the drama can never be 
the same again, now that ''Ibsen has lived and writ- 
ten. It may be said with Wen greater truth that 
the world can never be the skme again, since Ibsen 
has lived and written. The s|^irit of modem times, : 
the form and pressure of the ^e, the most fruitful / 
germs of modern culture are embodied in the dramas | 
of Ibsen. It should be the purpi^se of the drama to 
crystallize and body forth idejfls for the human 


race, and thus to inform reality with the ideal. For ( 
the age of Shakspere, the ideal of art was '' to hold, ; 
as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue 
her own feature, scorn her own image, and the 
very age and body of the time his form and pres- 
sure." The nineteenth century brought forth a nian; 
who boldly declared that we are no longer living in 
the time of Shakspere. He clearl]^ realized that the | 
artist's attitude toward life must be redemptive as 
well^as^Yelatiye. Every man shares the reponsi-! 
bility and the guilt of the society to which he be- 
longs. The function of contemporary art, of dra-ij 
matic art^^r excellence, is something higher thaiuj 
mere reflection. It is not enough merely to catch '; 
the surface sheen of life. Modern art concerns it- / 
self, must concern itself, with p en^^ative inter oreta- • 
lion. The drama is not only a mirror to reflect the 
surface of things, but also a Rontgen ray to pene-i 
trate the surface and reveal, beneath the outer in-| 
tegument, the fundamental frame-work and struc- 
ture of modern life. The great dramatists are the 
brief and abstract chronometers of the time. " It is; 
surely the great use of modern drama," says Pinero, 
" that while in its day it provides a rational entertain- 
ment, in the future it may serve as a history of the 
hour which gives it birth." This is perhaps the 
least service rendered by the drama : to serve as an 
historical record of the age. Many realistic critics 
maintain that the only works of art worth consider- 



ing as historical are not those written in one epoch 
to give a view of the life or the events of some 
earlier epoch, but those which deal with the life ot 
the time at which they are written, and have grown 
truly historical through the lapse of years. Ibsen's 
supremacy springs, not from his so-called historical 
dramas, of the type which Maeterlinck defines as 
" artificial poems that arise from the impossible mar-, 
riage of past and present," but from Jhik^xeal iiistor- 
ical dramas — his personal and social dramas of con- 
temporary life. 

All great minds, in contemplating the riddle of 
the human chimera and the disquieting mystery of 
life, must have realized, with Leibniz, that " every 
present is laden with the past and big with the 
future." A world-dramatist like Ibsen is the child 
of the past, the companion of the present, the pro- 
genitor of the future — tnnitj^Jmiissoluble. That 
he is the heir of the ages but increases his obligation 
to body forth with convincing truth the age in which 
he lives. Goethe maintained that, in order to know 
the man, it is necessary to know the age in which he 
lived. To no time in the world's history is this 
truth so apposite as to the present. The feeling of 
cosmic unity and the sentiment of social solidarity 
have so penetrated and informed the thought of 
to-day that no one questions the statement, as ap- 
plied to the dominant personality, that the age helps 
to create the man and the man helps to create the 


age. Every epoch-making mind» it has been said, is 
at the same time child and father, disciple and mas- 
ter, oFhi^ age. The more fully he surrenders him- 
self to it, the more fully will he control it. " Our 
pride and sense of human independence rebel against 
the belief that men of genius obey a movement quite 
as much as they control it, and even more than they 
create it," says John Addington Symonds. " We 
gain a new sense of the vitality and spiritual soli- 
darity of human thought. ' ' At first sight the individ- 
ual lessens; but the race, the mass from which the 
individual emerges and of which he becomes the 
spokesman and interpreter, gains in dignity and 
greatness. Shakspere is not less than he is, be- 
cause we know him as necessary to a series. His 
eminence remains his own." 

In this light, the masterpieces of modern drama 
appear, not as detached monuments of literary art, 
butjtj symbols of a,j:rowing wprldrspirit. We see[ c^.-^ ^-^ 
in the evolution of the individual the evolution of/ ^ ^^ ie>.c.-c 
the race, in the regeneration of the individual the o^^--c oi 
regeneration of society. The study of the inter^'f '^-C'v> v^i 
preter of life to-day resolves itself into a study of 
the vital phases of the struggle that is going on in) 
humanity to-day. 

i->:-i^/ 1, c 


We are living to-day in an age of transition — the 
transition between criticism and faith. The nine 



teenth century was called the age of perhaps the 
greatest doubt and the greatest faith the world has 
ever known. Science, with its transforming theories, 
its destructive and far-reaching criticism, swept the 
world with the force of an avalanche. The world 
has had to be reconstituted. The new world is just 
now beginning to emerge, like the phoenix, from the 
ashes of the old. The laboratary-methodt the dis- 
secting fever, the analytic spirit have, permeated and 
given new form to every department of human life. 
Nothing was accepted as fact until placed under the 
microscope, or perhaps subjected to the bombard- 
meftt of X-rays, or analyzed in a retort. So, to-day, 
we have a new psychology, a new art, a new medi- 
cine, a new sociology, a new religion. Ever3nvhere 
modification and alteration, redistribution and re- 

The_ world demands the Truth to-day, for it has 
scientifically demonstrated the Biblical theorem tbat 
the truth shall make you free. 

Under the influence of the conception of cosmic 
unity, tracing its origin to Auguste Comte and per- 
meating all modern thought, society has grown to 
symbolize a vast wave which carries along the in- 
dividual with it. The laws of its motion are fixed: 
if the individual resists, he is submerged. The in- 
dividual is but a tiny atom tossed upon the surface 
of this turbulent wave. Government in many cases 
appears to mean the stifling of the wise and enlight- 


ened few by the will of the ignorant and thoughtless 

The social compact often robs the individual of ; 

From the standpoint of evolution, the individual 
is at war with his fellows. The long line of sci- 
entists, from Lamarck to Spencer, from Huxley to 
Haeckel, from Darwin to De Vries have held their 
solemn clinics and registered their stern verdict. 
Tiie theories of unlimited competition, of the in- 
variability of species, of the mutability of organic 
forms, of the survival of the fittest (or is it, perhaps, 
the survival of the most unscrupulous?) are pro- 
nounced by the vast majority to be laws as sure, in- 
evitable and relentless as the facts of life and death. 
The struggle for existence is the stern reality the 
individual cannot shirk. This struggle is sharpened 
in direct proportion to the increase in the cost of the 
staple commodities of life. Competition becomes so 
fierce as to amount, in many cases, to oppression, 
elimination, destruction. 

In certain lights, life takes on the guise of a brutal 

From the side of modem medidne and modern 
biology, a more sinister spectre robs the world of 
peaceful sleep. The scientist, the surgeon, the phy- 
sician play the leading roles in the drama of our life. 
Nerve strain, neurasthenia, mental collapse, physical 
ills of every sort beset and menace on all sides a 


world which has already passed the first flush of 
youth. The ghost of Hamlet's father is a less terri-i 
fying apparition than the spectres of our own brain. 
All men are not born free and equal — not even 
those born in the same rank of society. Do w^i^t we 
will, we cannot escape the in fluen ce of the pasj:. 
Heredity lays its skeleton hand upon us and we enter 
the struggle for existence with the ineradicable taint 
of hereditary weakness or degeneracy gnawing like 
a vulture at our very vitals. 
\ .Z^^^t^tz,^' The sins of the fathers are visited upon the 
r.QTH:v^ children even unto the third and fourth genera- 

' • - c^ ■ • 

o tion. 

^ The modern theories of spiritualism, thought- 
transference and hypnotic suggestion All our souls 
with awe and disquiet, and tend to depress our 
sense of human vitality. Such scientists as Myers, 
Hyslop, Lombroso, Lodge and a score of others, 
working both independently and through reputable 
societies for psychical research, are making slow, but 
persistent efforts to fret away the thin veil — if such 
there be! — between matter and spirit. In the 
minds of many, there remains little room for doubt, 
not simply of the control of mind over matter, but of 
the control of mind over mind, of spirit over spirit. 
The dominant will comes into the sphere of our 
life, exerts upon us its occult influence, and our 
weaker will succumbs. 

Humanity is the dynamo of potential forces which ) 


we cannot fathom. Hypnotism is the thief of iri- 
dividual! ty. 

Ever since the beginning of the world until the 
last century, two different standards of conduct pre- 
vailed for men and women. For the two sexes there 
obtained two different sets of laws, two different 
codes of ethics, two different philosophies of life. 
Ever since Mary WoUstonecraft awoke the world 
with her Vindication of the Rights of Woman; 
ever since John Stuart Mill animadverted against 
the subjection of woman; ever since Henrik Ibsen 
declared in burning words that in the Workers and 
the Women he placed all his hopes for the future, 
and that for them he would work with all his 
strength — this age has won the right to the title: 
the age of Woman's Emancipation. Through the 
slow but titanic pressure of the feminist movement, 
woman is at last beginning to gain the freedom — 
economic, intellectual, moral, and even political ! — 
which has so long been denied her. The true rela- 
tion between man and woman as co-ordinate factors 
in human progress is at last coming to light. 

The emancipation of woman, in the completest 
sense, is on the way. 

This is an age marked by unsettled and conflicting 
views in regard to standards of morality. " Social 
progress," it has been said, " takes effect through the 
replacement of old institutions by new ones; and 
since every institution involves the recognition of the 


duty of conforming to it, progress must involve the 
repudiation of an established duty at every turn." 
The world has had its eyes opened to the flaws in i 
our rough-and-ready morality by the rhapsodic in- Lxir^-vj 
vective of Nietzsche, the mordant irony of Ibsen> /pv;rgtoa^ 
the impassioned zeal of Tolstoi, the enlightening sat- 
ire of Bernard Shaw, the lightning humor of Mark 
Twaih. Inequality of divorce laws in the different 
States of America, for example, makes a man who is 
a scoundrel in one State a respectable gentleman in 
another. Murders under the specious excuse of the 
" unwritten law " arc only too tragically frequent. 
In some States, children, even before birth, may be 
willed or deeded away like chattels. The funda- 
mental principles of right and wrong — whatever 
they are, no one seems to know them I — are, of 
course, eternal; but the conventional code of conduct, 
the " morality of custom," as Nietzsche termed it, 
cannot with justice be applied invariably and unex- 

Conventional morality is a very untrustworthy 
standard for distinguishing between right and wrong.. 

The great discovery of modern life is that society, 
not the individual, is at fault. Democratic govern- / 
ment is on trial. We no longer boast, with Shak-/ 
spere, of Man: noble in reason, infinite in faculty,! 
in form and moving express and admirable, in action 
like an angel, in apprehension like a god, for we 
realize the sad botch he has made of the actual af- 


fairs of life. The humanizing influences of fraternal 
sympathy, of social pity and social justice must re- 
place the more personal and selfish interests of the 
individual. Social criticism is the sign-manual of 
the age. Redemption for the individual is to be at- / 
tained through a recognition of the intolerable in- / 
justices of modern society, and through consistent / 
efforts at remedial and constructive measures for its 
reorganixation. '' There still remains in the depths 
of every heart of loyal intention," says Maeterlinck, 
" a great duty of charity and justice that eclipses all 
others. And it is perhaps from the struggle of this 
duty against our egoism and ignorance that the veri- 
table drama of our century shall spring." 
^The sociologist, the social reformer, is destined 
to be the hero of the future. 

With science as the active and dominant spirit of 
the age, to whose tests all questions are now-a-days 
subjected, we begin to gain some sort of perspective 
of the complex character of contemporary existence 
with which the interpreter of life has to deal. The 
insistent problems of the social complex, the evolu- 
tion of the individual under the operation of the 
law of the survival of the fittest, the sociological doc- 
trine of environment, the biological theories of 
heredity and temperament, the psychic phenomena 
of hypnotism and spiritualism, the great gulf fixed 
between social influence and social impotence, the 
hideous corruption of politics, business and finance, 



the increasing unrest and discontent of the laboring 
classes, the growing artificiality of metropolitan life, 
distrust in conventional standards of morality, par- 
tial and imperfect justice meted out to woman, wide- 
spread dissatisfaction with the grosser injustices and 
inequalities of society and its organization, and, per- 
meating all, the relentless criticism of science and so- 
ciology — these are, in sum, the momentous prob- 
lems of chiefest significance in contemporary life 
which demand adequate treatment, with the prospect 
of eventual solution, at the hands of the conscien- 
tious student of present-day conditions. 

It IS through his masterful exposition and treat- 
ment of many of these deep and ever-widening prob- 
lems that Henrik Ibsen has attained to supreme emi- 
nence and authority in the drama of our.jine.-. 


No extravagance lurks in the statement that 
Henrik Ibsen is the greatest Teutonic dramatist 
since Shakspere, and the greatest dramatist of any 
race or clime, of our modem era. Not until he 
served an apprenticeship of decades did he earn the 
right to that comprehensive characterization. '^ It be- 
came his due only after years of preparatory pre- ^ 
occupation with the legendary, the poetic, the his- 
torical, and the romantic. Henrik Johan Ibsen was 
born on March 28, 1828, at Skien, Norway. Ibsen 
and Bjomson are customarily classed together as 


the great Norwegian geniuses; and Ibsen has long 
borne the title of the Norwegian Seer. A Scoto- 
Dano-Teuton seems a more fitting, if more cum- 
brous, characterization for this so-called Norwe- 
gian. Genealogical researches, extending as far 
back as Ibsen's great-great-grandparents, indicate 
that Ibien had not a drop of Norwegian blood in his . 
veins. The three strains in his ancestry arc Scotch^ 
Danish and German. It is perhaps attaching no 
undue importance to hereditary influence to attribute 
the lyric delicacy and sensitiveness of his poetry to 
the Danish element in his blood, his uncompromising 
morality and high ethical standards to Scotch influ- 
ence, and his passion for abstract logic to the three- 
fold German strain. 

The Stockmann house in which Ibsen was born 
faced an open square, on one side of which stood the 
town-pillory, on the other the mad-house and the 
lock-up; while the Latin school, the grammar schools 
and the church looked on as if in protest. It was 
under the shadow of such surroundings, with their 
oppressive atmosphere of solemnity and gloom, that 
the first years of Ibsen's youths were spent. The 
Ibsen family was prosperous, moved in the " best 
circles," and were inclined to the lavish in their hos- 
pitality. When Henrik was eight years old, financial 
disaster overtook the family, and they were forced 
to withdraw to a small farm house on the outskirts 
of the little town, where they lived in poverty and 

- s 


retiremieat This sudden transition from affluence i 
to poverty made a profound impression upon the/ 
eight-year-old child. Ibsen afterwards remarked 
that those who had taken most advantage of his 
parents' hospitality in their prosperous days were 
precisely those who now most markedly turned to 
them the cold shoulder. Ibsen never quite forgot 
the lesson thus early learned of the shallowness and 
insincerity of society. This was doubtless the initial 
influence in bringing to pass that crushing jndict- 
; ment of modern society which runs thrnngh all ^i*^ 
middle and later dramas. 

There was no thing tuH-Blooded or athletic about 
the youthful Ibsen; he seems to have cared. nothing 
for outdoor sports. His chief distraction came from 
shutting himself away in a pxlvale little room of his 
own, and poring for hours over musty tomes^ rare 
prints, old engravings, and the like. According to 
his sister's account, the only outdoo;r amusement in 
which he indulged was the building of houses — of 
what material she does not say. As a boy, he lovfid 
to play the part of magician, to mystify his elders, 
^.^^ and to perform, with his brother's aid, tricks of 
N.^jo legerdemain. It is noteworthy that he had a pas- 
sion for cutting out fantastically dressed little figures 
in pasteboard, attaching them to wooden blocks, and 
^arranging them in groups or tableaux. It requires 
j^-^little imagination to see the dramatist in embryo here 
— the play of the constructive faculty, the passion for 


technical sleight-of-hand, the fundamental interest in 
the manipulation of fictitious characters. There is 
strong reason to believe that Ibsen kept up this early 
child's play — identifying imaginary characters with 
little material models — throughout his entire life. 

Considerable talent for painting showed itself in 
the youthful Ibsen; and like Bernard Shaw after 
him, he hadjm ambition to be a great painter. But 
financial exigency forbade; and at the age of six- 
teen, Ibsen was apprenticed, not to a Norwegian 
Raphael or Danish Titian, but — to an apothecary. 
The anarchist in Ibsen, so often displayed in later 
years, was fTrst. aroused tojiterary. expiessioa by 
the Revolution of 1848. The ferment in Europe, 
Ibsen himself confessed, ^' hada strong and ripening 
effect on my development, immature though it re- 
mained both then and long afterwards. I wrote 
clangorous poems of encouragement to the Magyars, 
adjuring them, for the sake of freedom and hu- 
manity, not to falter in their righteous war against 
* the tyrant '; and I composed a long series of son- 
nets to King Oscar — urging him to set aside all 
petty considerations, and march without delay, at 
the head of his army, to the assistance of our Danish 
brothers on the Slesvig frontier.'* 

In the meantime».he devoted his time to prepariiig 
for his matriculation examination at Christiania Uni- 
versity, where he purposed studying medicine. By a 
remarkable chance, the subject assigned him by the 


University for examination was the Conspiracy of 
Catilinei to be studied in the history of Sallust and 
the oration of Caesar. Ibsen relates that he [^ de- 
voured these documents greedily ** ; and a few months 
later his first drama, Catiline, was finished. The 
opening lines of this play might serve as the 
prophecy oi Ibsen's whole lite worl 



" I must, I ijiust ; a voice is crying to me 
From my Soul's depths, and I will follow it. 

This youth, so ^^ spectral '* as his companions called 
him, going about like an enigma sealed wi(h seven 
seals, found a most congenial subject in the story of 
Catiline. For Ibsen felt himself at odds with, the 
community in which he lived, and was fired to do 
something bold and daring. This play contained in 
vague outlines many of the features identified with 
his later work: " the opposition between power and 
enterprise, between will and potentiality, glike the 
tragedy and the comedy of humanity." His future 
methods are previsaged here in his employment of 
his own individual technique — a dark and ancient 
secret inaugurates the action and causes the catastro- 
phe ; while two women, the one all passion, the other 
all gentleness, struggle for the love of the hero. 
Sallust may have influenced Ibsen far more than did 
Cssar, as Mr. Gosse suggests; but behind all, lurk 
the influences of the most important prose-writer of 
Norwegian romanticism, Mauritz Hansen, and of 


the distinguished poet and dramatist, Henrik Wcr- 
geland. The edition of Catiline with the exception 
of thirty copies which, strangely enough, found pur- 
chasers, was disposed of as waste paper to a huck- 
ster. " For the next few days," Ibsen laconically re- 
marks, " we (his room-mate Schulrud, who pub- 
lished Catiline at his own expense, and himself) 
lacked none of the first necessities of life 1 " 

The little one-act drama^ The JVarrior^s Tomb, 
which Ibsen brought with him In an unfinished state 
from Bergen, was finally completed and accepted by 
the Christiania Theatre. Though little financial aid 
came from the three productions given at Chris- 
tiania, Ibsen was greatly encouraged by the accept- 
ance of the play. This trivial play, with its exterior 
comparisons between the South and the North, is 
noteworthy solely for its traces of Oehlenschlager's 
influence; if it were the sole extant fragment of 
Ibsen's work, he would never have been heard of. 
Its closing lines : 

'' Dem Grab ensteigt dann Nordland hell und hehr : 
Zur Geistesthat auf des Gedankens Meerl" 

foreshadow his youthful confidence in his own fu- 
ture. His poverty was extreme ; had it not been for 
his exceptionally strong constitution, his health must 
inevitably have suffered. One of his acquaintances 
at this time recently wrote that " when Ibsen's finan- 
cial condition compelled him to practice the most 


stringent economyi he tried to do without under- 
clothing, and finally even without stockings. In 
these experiments he succeeded; and in winter he 
went without an overcoat ; yet without being troubled 
by colds or other bodily ills." 

In preparing for the University, Ibsen met Bjorn- 
son, who described him at this time in the words (no 
wonder I) : 

'languid and lean, with a complexion like gypsum, 
Behind an immense coal-black beard — Henrik Ibsen." 

This was the beginning of thst long acquaintance, 
between the two great geniuses, blighted for a time 
rather by the misunderstandings of partisans than of 
the principals, but afterwards renewed with larger 
appreciation and deeper comprehension — a relation 
cemented by the marriage of Ibsen's son to Bjorn- 
son's daughter. It is worth mentioning that Ibsen 
warmly espoused the labor movement at this early 
period, at one time narrowly escaping arrest and im- 
prisonment. From this time until his death, though 
not active in its display, he felt a deep and abiding 
Interest in the labor movement. . _ ; 

The financial siege was temporarily raised when 
Ole Bull, the great violinist, oflFered Ibsen the post 
of " theatre-poet " at the newly constituted National 
Theatre in Bergen. Though Ibsen's salary was less 
than $350 a year, it was eked out by travelling 
grants, and gave him his first real start in the world 


as a dramatist. Jn ^rimff^^^T ^*^*fff H?iH irrittrn Caf- 
iUne, perh aps paytly undfif ^^^ InflMfi"^^ ^^ -^^*^'"frr; 
The Warrior^ s Mound, originally entitled The Nor* 
mans, after the manner of Oehlenschlager, though 
with ruder touch; and 111,1849, he had actually begun 
his work on Olaf Trygveson. In 1850, probably in 
Christiania, Ibsen chose a motive from Faye's book 
of Norwegian folk-lore as the theme for The Ptar- 
miff an of Justedal; but on the appearance of Land- 
stad's book of Norwegian folk-songs, and after 
Ibsen had completed one act and part of another, he 
re-worked his material into the final form of Olaf 
Liljekrans. He later made a brief attempt at an 
opera, under the title of The Ptarmigan; but 
only one act and a tiny fragment of another was ever 
completed. The fragments of The Ptarmigan of 
Justedal, and of the opera-text The Ptarmigan, now 
for the first time published in Ibsen's Posthumous 
Works, are interesting solely from the biographical 

It was one of Ibsen's duties as " theatre-poet " to 
have a new play ready for each recurrence of Jan- 
uary 2, the " Foundation Day " of the theatre. On 
that day, in 1853, Ibsen produced his own romantic 
comedy of St. John's Night* Under the spell of the 
punch seasoned by a nixie with malicious intent, 
the two young people who are engaged find that, 
in reality, they love someone else — quite after 
the manner of A Midsummer Nights Dream. As in 


many future dramas of Ibsen, for instance, in The 
League of Youth, and The Wild Duck, an ancient 
wrong piays a decisive role in the play — in this 
case, cutting the Gordian knot, dissolving the be- 
trothal, and sending all away happy, each Jack with 
his Jill. It betrays Ibsen's first attempt at an artful 
intrigue, so admirably achieved later in Lady Incie r 
of Oestraat, the best of Ibsen's dramas written under 
French in¥uence, Julius Poulsen, the mildly ludi- 
crous poet and nationalist, in his own person reduces 
to absurdity the aesthetics of Heiberg; in him we 
recognize the prototype of both Peer Gynt and 
Hjalmar Ekdal. The whole drama may be con- 
strued as an effort to distinguish between trut 
romance and false romanticism. Juliane's words: 

" I must suffer and be silent — ah ! that is woman's lot in 
this world." 

foreshadow Ingeborg's memorable words in The 
Pretenders : 

" To love, to sacrifice all, and be forgotten, that is 
woman's saga." 

And clear prevision of A Comedy of Love lurks in 
Poulsen's words: 

" In the state of amorousness, one treats love theoretically. 
Betrothal and marriage on the other hand — you see — 
those are practical affairs — and in practice, as we know, 
theories do not always hold good." 


Though not produced until 1857, Olaf Liljekrans 
had its first conception seven years earlier. It Is 
woven from the ballad of Sir Olaf, lured away by 
a fairy just as he is on the way to bring home his 
bride, and the folk-tale of the wild, graceful young 
maiden of Justedal valley, roaming the woods like 
the shy ptarmigan. The story is trivial; and the 
characters are insipid. There is only one incident 
which points forward to the Ibsen of a maturer 
phase of art, the scene in which Hemming and Inge- 
borg, the impractical lovers, discover after their 
flight together that they are incapable of the sort 
of love which will sustain them through all priva- 
tions. This motive was, in a later year, to furnish 
the impulse for the like predicament of Falk and 
Svanhild in J Comedy of Love. 

The publication of Ibsen's Posthumous Works 
brings to light Ibsen's hitherto unpublished skit on 
current po litical affairs in Norway — much the sort 
of thing one frequently reads in New York Life; it 
is deserving of a word before entering into the 
deeper current of Ibsen's development as a dramatist 
in Lady Inger of Oestraat. When Ibsen came to 
Christiania in March, 1850, he was full of revolu- 
tionary ideas; and a year later he observed with sa- 
tirical contempt the new Storthing abandoning the 
advanced position they had taken in 1848. One 
morning he visited the Tribune of the Storthing, and 
the same evening, while attending a performance of 

' 4 ' 

' ' • ' '' -f d2 " ' ' • EtJTROi>EAN DRAMATISTS 

Bellini's opera Norma, the idea of the political sat- 
ire came into his head. In the little satire, Severus 
— otherwise Herr Stabell — flirts now with Norma 
(the Opposition), now with Adalgisa (the party 
in power) ; various other members of the Storthing 
are openly satirized. All the vaunted pretensions of 
adherence that Severus first makes to Norma are 
proven insincere in the end when Adalgisa throws 
around him her protection and transforms him into 
a demigod — or in other words, a Minister 1 The 
effect is magical : all, even Norma, bow down rever- 
entially before him, acknowledging in the position 
of Minister, gained at whatever sacrifice of party 
fealty, the true goal of the legislator. Slight as it is, 
the little skit shows Ibsen in a lightly satirical mood ; 
and points forward to the time when he will pour 
out the vials of his wrath and contempt upon com- 
promise and half-heartedness in his own nation. It. 
stands as a signpost to the Ibsen of The League of 
Youth and An Enemy of the People. 

In 1854 Ibsen revived The Warrior^ s Mound'zt 
the National Theatre, without popular success; and 
in 1855, he presented at the same theatr e T.ady Inger 
of Oestraat, his first drama which possesses signifi** 
cance, not only as a link in his artistic development, 
but for its own striking and signal merits. 

Lady Inger of Oestraat, a long, five-act play, is 
really a remarkable imaginative re-vitalization of the 
spirit of an epoch centuries past. Comparison of 



the drama with the facts of history reveals Ibsen*s 
faculty for discovering a splendid dramatic situation 
In an unpromising historical episode. There is 
somethingTSysflC^hd" crepuscular in the atmosphere 
of this dark tragedy ; and yet its mystery is less the 
spell of mood, than the confusion that results from 
imperfect and mystifying technique. ** Go back to 
Lady Inger," says Bernard Shaw, " and you will be 
tempted to believe that Ibsen was deliberately bur- 
lesquing the absurdities of Richardson's booth; for 
die actio n is carried on mostly in impossible asides." 
For the first time in his career, Ibsen reveals the 
influence of his studies, both of dassic and contem- 
porary drama. The Greek element imbues the story . 
itself — the retfiEutive justice of secret sin com-_ 
mi tted lo ng anterior to the opening of the plaj — 
that retrospective method which Ibsen afterwards 
made so peculiarly his own. The complications and 
intrigues show the diligence with which Ibsen has 
studied the artificial methods of that dexterous con- 
triver^ Scribe. For the first time also in his career 
Ibsen displays real genius for deep characterization 
— alike in the queenly woman, apparently destined 
to free her people from the tyrant, yet harassed by 
the thought of her past transgressions; in Nils 
Lykke, the fascinating libertine, purified through his 
love for a high-souled, gentle woman; and Elina, 
Ibsen's first genuinely appealing female character. 
Lady Inger of Oestraat was not a success — failing 


to please the playgoers of Bergen and not wholly 
satisfying Ibsen himself. Nor is this to be wondered 
at; for Ibsen was fumbling with technical methods, 
obsolescent and derivative, not yet having discovered 
his own original fingering for the dramatic key- 
board. This dark drama, reminiscent now of Mac^ 
beth, now of Websterlan violence and blood, now 
of German romanticism, now of Scribe, is striking, 
but imperfectly conceived. Genuinely interesting as 
a strong link in the evolution of Ibsen's art, as a 
step in the historical development of contemporary 
drama it is virtually negligible. 

In The Feast at Solhau^j^ produced at the Bergen 
Theatre oh X^niiary 2, 1856, Ibsen achieved his first 
genuine local success. He was recalled again and 
again to the footlights, was serenaded, made a 
speech, and afterwards confessed that he was quite 
happy over it all. The play spread abroad his fame 
throughout the Scandinavian countries and Den- 
mark. Its popularity is scarcely explainable to-day, 
except from the fact that the play is in the line of 
classic'TNorwegian development. " The ex&avagant 
\ and melodramatic plot possesses no permanent hu- 
\ man interest; and the only noteworthy feature it 
1 possesses, in its relation to the development of 
Ibsen's art, is the situation which Ibsen employs 
again and again in later plays; th^ placing qf g m^ 
between two women who struggle for his love^^ the 



one fiery and passionate* the other gentle and tender. 
It lends confirmation to the belief that, instead of 
enlargi ng his Tionzbh, iSsen tends rather to intensi- 
fication of method — di gg ing deeper and ever deepof 
i nto the sub -sdratum of^human feeling^ and humaa..- 
conscious ness, 

'^^"'^We come now to a turning-point in Ibsen's career | 
as a dramatic artist. He has abandoned forever the I 
romantic ballad — it has given him all it had to give. [ 
His career as director of the theatre at Bergen is at [ 
an end, and he has only one notable play to his 
credit — Lady Inger of Oestraat. And yet this five- 
years' apprenticeship at Bergen may be said to mark 
the turning-point in Ibsen's life. This blind step 
in the dark, taken in the magnificent rashness of 
youth, was the definitive step in his career as a 
dramatist. The Bergen apprenticeship enabled him, 
through experimenting with and discarding the 
technical methods of others, to discover his own in- 
dividual and unique methods of dramatic procedure. 
Like Antoine^ Claretie or Granville Barker, Ibsen I 
fias learned, through precept, practice and example,! 
the arts of theatre management, of stage technique,!- 
of dramaturgy. From this time forward we dis-! 
cover in Ibsen, not a Norwegian bungler in drama, 
but a great world-dramatist. Ibsen's drama now 
belongs to the future. 



In 1857, Ibsen was appointed director of the 
Norwegian Theatre at Christiania. Now began an- 
other six-year period, the most painful in Ibsen's life. 
He had to fight not only for the existence of himself 
, and his family — for he was married in 1856 — but 
^ actually for the very existence of Norwegian poetry 
and the Norwegian stage. While looking for a sub- 
ject that would display, in broad and primitive 
forms, the clash of characters in an ancient Norwe- 
gian family, he fell upon the Voh ung Saga. By 
dramatizing a particular episode, he hoped to raise 
the national epic material to a higher degree of 
artistic valuation. It is a mark of the struggle be- 
tween Ibsen's realistic mind and his romantic tem- 
perament that the aim evolved was to present, not 
the mythic world, but the life of Norway in primitive 
times. Ibsen accomplished his purpose by employ- 
ing prose as a medium instead of poetry, discovering 
t in the event that the play was more poetical in prose 
j than in verse. The result was an authentically dra- 
' matic, finely executed achievement. 

The Vikings at Helgelandjs the tragedy of the 
man who has taken the credit of another- manV 
deed — a theme of vicarious .sacrifice exploited by 
Rostand with notable success in Cyrano de Bergerac. 
In Ibsen's play, the strong, passionate heroic woman, 
Hjordis, whose father was killed in a viking raid. 


has lived from girlhood in the conqueror's home. 
Sigurd and his friend Gunnar come, see and are 
conquered by her; she, secretly loving the fearless 
Sigurd, promises herself to him who kills the bear. 
Disguised in Gunnar's armor, Sigurd wins the maid 
for his friend. 

The tragedy begins when Gunnar, committed to 
the secret, has to suffer the torment of listening to 
the praises of his deed — a deed which he has not 
only not performed, but which he was incapable of 
performing. His secret becomes a ghastly burden. 
The tragedy sharpens in intensity when, as Gunnar's 
wife, Hjordis discovers that the man she loves was 
he who really won her. There is a limit to self- 
sacrifice, she proudly tells him — and no man may 
with impunity give to his friend the woman he loves. 
Hjordis is most cruel to him she most loves, slay- 
ing him that they may go out together upon the 

There is something of the sublime horror of 
ancient days — - as well as of its primitive strength 
and unsullied emotions — in this play. And doubt- 
less Ibsen meant it as a tonic, an invigorant for a gen- 
eration sated with cheap emotionalism, rank insin- 
cerity and forgotten loyalty. The play aroused 
violent opposition, was decried on all sides, and left 
"Ibsen more depressed than ever. Next he turns to 
The Comedy of Love — only to rouse a tempest 
about hii ears. Once more he returns to the sagas. 


in the hope of bettering his former effort and win- 
ning real renown. The new play is known as JTfeg,, 
Pretenders ^ though a more correct translation would 
be The Stuff from which Kings are Made. Here 
wejiavethe tra gedy of the ma n who ^^^^^Is ^'hg 
tHought oTanother — just as, in The Vikings at HeU 
ffeTandfWthivt the tragedy of the maa,igha^teaK 
Ihe deed of^uothen Georg Brandes says in a 
classic passage: 

" In The Pretenders two fig;ures again stand opposed to 
one another as the superior and the inferior beings . • • 
It is towards this contrast that Ibsen has hitherto uncon- 
sciously directed his endeavors, just as Nature feels her 
way in her blind preliminary attempts to form new types. 
Hakon and Skule are pretenders to the same throne, scions 
of royalty out of which a king may be made. But the first 
IS the incarnation of fortune, victory, right and confidence; 
the second — the principal figure in the play, masterly in 
its truth and originality — is the brooder, a prey to inward 
struggles and endless distrust, brave and ambitious, with 
perhaps every qualification and claim to be king, but lack- 
ing the inexpressible somewhat that would give a value to all 
the rest. . . . ' I am a king's arm,' he says, * mayhap a 
king's brain as well ; but Hakon is the whole king.' * You 
have wisdom and courage, and all noble gifts of the mind,' 
says Hakon to him ; ' you are born to stand nearest a king, 
but not to be a king yourself.' " 

There is one signally momentous passage m the 


play deserving of quotation. Skule eagerly asks 
the old Skald: 

** What gift do I need to become a King? " 
." My lord," replied the Skald, " you are a King I " 

Then Skule utters the thought that is eating its 
cankerous way into his soul: 

*' Have you, at all times, full faith that you are a 

Here is a strange mingling of that truth and 
poetry, that JVdhrheit and Dichtung of which Goethe 
wrote so eloquently. As Gosse says : " It is by no 
means extravagant to see in the noble emulation of 
the dukes in The Pretenders some reflection of 
Ibsen's attitude toward the youthful and brilliant 
Bjornson. The luminous self-reliance, the ardor 
and confidence and good fortune of Bjornson-Hakon 
could not but offer a violent contrast with the gloom 
and hesitation, the sick revulsions of hope and final 
lack of conviction of Ibsen-Skule. ... * The luck 
iest man is the greatest man,' says Bishop Nicholas 
in the play, and Bjornson seemed in those melancholy 
years as lucky as Ibsen was unlucky." Bjdrnson was 
upborne by the favor of the populace ; Ibsen worked 
without favor and without support. And yet, as 
Rudyard Kipling says, *' He rides fastest who rides 
alone." This was Ibsen's darkest hour. The end 
is not yet 



Henrik Ibsen began histriJsigy^Qijsihxsi'With a 
play as provocative, as piquant as it is satirical. It 
is the work of a prisoner of hope, a baffled idealist: 
Ibsen is seeking to chastise his own Norwegian peo- 
ple by painting them just as he saw them, without 
fear or favor. A daring novel. The Sheriffs 
Daughters, by Camilla CoUett, was creating a pro- 
found sensation in Norway. This novel, a harbin- 
ger of the new thought movement in Norway, was 
a vigorous attack upon the marriage of convenience. 
That no marriage not based on love can be happy, 
was the hookas thesis* Depressed by meagre suc- 
cess, harassed by financial embarrassment, Ibsen' was 
in no mood to accept so roseate a view belied so 
utterly by the conditions he saw around him. No 
play of Ibsen's has been handled so crudely by the 
critics as The Comedy of Love, this most diaphanous 
structure of light satire. Svanhild, now for the first 
time spread before us in the Nachgelassene Schrif' 
ten, was begun as early as 1856; the play was finally 
completed in 1 862. It was begun in prose, and com- 
pleted in rhymed iambics; and the original draft 
contains nothing critically noteworthy. But it is of 
the highest importance to note that In a letter to 
Qemcns Petersen (Aug. 10, 1863), lately published, 
Ibsen frankly confesses : " As to The Comedy of 
Love, I can assure you that if ever it was necessary 


for an author to rid himself of a sentiment and a 
subject it was so with me when I began that work." 
The Comedy of Love is the image of an evanescent 
mood: it was Ibsen's way of getting rid of it. 

Perhaps the most noteworthy passage in the play, 
is a scene" which may have furnished the model for 
the "^aucti on-scene " in Bernard Shaw's Candida. 
Guldstad, the wealthy, shrewd old merchant, gives 
the counsel of golden common sense, which induces 
the lovers — the poet Falk and the idealistic Svan* 
hild ~ to part. 

Hear a golden counsel, then. 
Use your experience; watch your fdlow-men, 
How every loving couple struts and swaggers 
Like millionaires among a world of beggars. 
They scamper to the altar, lad and lass, 
They make a home, and drunk with exultation. 
Dwell for awhile within its walls of glass. 
Then comes the day of reckoning — but, alas. 
They're bankrupt, and their house in liquidation! 
Bankrupt the bloom of youth on woman's brow; 
Bankrupt the flower of passion in her breast. 
Bankrupt the husband's battle-ardor now. 
Bankrupt each spark of passion he possessed. 
Bankrupt the whole estate, below, above — 
And yet this broken pair were once confessed 
A first-dass house in all the wares of love. 

Tennyson says that it is better to have loved and 
lost than never to have loved at all. Ibsen main- 


tained — not In a general philosophical way, but 
with respect to the conditions he saw immediately 
around him — (hat it is better, if jputhfully, ro- 
mantically in love, to separate, rather ihantcMnarry. 
Ibsen is in agreement, with the brilliant Frenchman 
who asserted that all comedies end with a wedding, 
because it is then that the tragedy begins I Ibsen 
was so much the observer, with the added divination 
of the poet, that in this play he almost achieved the 
distinction of a philosophical distillation of the real 
essence of love. Mirrored in his mood at the mo- 
ment, love appeared to Ibsen as one of two things : 
either a dead, dull thing, a mere surfeit; or else the 
evanescent flame of the moment, or, to change the 
figure, a glass of champagne upon the board of life. 
There was, in Ibsen's vision, another deeper love, 
whidi he found not until When We Dead Awaken 
— if Falk and Svanhild had only possesse d the true 
faith in the self-sustaining power of Ipye^ Ibsen 
means, they would never have parted. This is the 
materialistic flaw in the structure of modern life. 
For the inevitable erotic illusion, Ibsen betrays no 
scorn; he reserves his contempt for the decay of 
character consequent to the acceptance of the vulgar 
convention of the legal union, by thir Trail and 
weak-hearted generation. The play is a comedy, 
not a philosophy; Ibsen sought only, to use his own 
accurate words, to represent " the contrast in our 
present state of society between the actual and the 


ideal in all that relates to love and marriage." It 
is futile and beside the mark to point out Ibsen's 
one-sidedness in making no allowance for the vast 
number of happy marriages based upon love, and in 
valuing the memory of a beautiful love above the 
humanizing responsibilities of consecrated marriage, 
the enfranchising bonds of partnership and parent- 
hood. How stupid — in face of the parting be- 
tween Falk and Svanhild : 

Falk (sofdy to Svanhild) — 

God bless thee, bride of my life's dawn ; 
Where'er I be, to nobler deed thou'lt wake me. 

Svanhild (looks after him a moment, then says softly, 


Now over is my life, by lea and lawn. 

The leaves are falling — now the world may take me. 

Ibsen clearly points out that, in the life around 
him, creature comforts are valued far above the 
sustaining power of love — and when Georg Bran- 
des, urging the claim of ideal engagements eventu- 
ating in ideal marriages, i:emarked: "You know 
there are sound potatoes and rotten potatoes in the 
world,'* Ibsen replied with a cynicism, as light as it 
is sharp : " I am afraid none of the sound potatoes 
have come under my observation." The tone of 
The Comedy of Love as an attack on love and mar- 
riage branded Ibsen as an " immoral " ( !) writer — 
a charge which a lifetime of blameless conduct alone 
could dissipate. 



From Rome, after a space, came a momentous 
message. The frustration of an ideali stic huma n 
spirit by the savage irony of rfilijy j*^ the thpmt -i>f 
Broad;, and its artistic temper at once ranges it in 
the category of Hamlet, Manfred and Faust. The 
epic-fragment discovered by Pontoppidan and re- 
cently published, with its souvenirs of Heiberg and 
Wclhaven, prompts the wish that Ibsen had adhered 
to his original intention. For whatever the me- 
dium. Brand IS essentially an epic. Brand himself 
is a figure of heroic, even Titanic mold, arraigning 
all compromise with his ideals of Christianity be- 
fore the bar of Heaven. The God of his worship 
is the God of the Old Testament, animated with 
wrath and indignation against a faltering genera- 
tion. What Brand (like Ibsen himself — who con- 
fessed that he was Brand, in his best moments) de- 
sires is so radical a revolution of the spirit of man 
that the spirit of compromise in man will be chained 
and buried forever from sight. As priest and man, 
he is determined to champion at any and all costs 
the cause of things, not as they seem, not even as 
they are, but as he is convinced they should be. 
Man's self-development is his highest duty; conces- 
sions to the world take the form of evil and tempta- 
tion. The only way to develop one's self Is to stand 


free and to stand alone. Brand's motto, " All or 
\ Nothing," is the logical epitome of his point of 


^ BrgndSs a terrible arraignment of the half-hearted 
piet i sm of the Norwe gian people. And yet Brand's 
ideal of pietism is aiTTdeal unattainable : it cannot 
survive the shock of reality. Brand is the ^ictoriaj 
projectioajoi a splendidly hopeless, idealistic dream'^ 
Cervantes in Don Quixote portrayed the bank- 
ruptcy of chivalry in collision with the brutal facts 
of life; so Ibsen in Brand portrays the bankruptcy 
of the pietistic ideal as soon as it is brought into 
collision with sordid reality. As soon as he put his 
faith to the test of acts, Brand brought nothing but 
suffering upon all whom he loved; he had reared a 
castle in the clouds which none — not even himself 
— might inhabit. 

In Peer Gynt, the brilliant, formless, parti-col- 
pred pendant to Brand, Ibsen shows to the world the 
other suleqf the Norwegian people. Peer Gynt 
has for ideal the utterly selfish gratification of his 
own individuality — regardless of all the rest of the 
world. He glows with the desire to be romantic, 
but he has not the will or the courage to do the 
romantic thing; so he takes it all put in romancing. 
His ideal of man is a sort of demi^god and super- 
braggart combined, of all-conquering will — a mas- 
terful fellow, a " magerful man," a fascinating dog 
whom no woman can refuse, a born fighter, a gal- 
lant knight. But Peer soon discovers that no such 
bird of paradise has ever sung in the world-concert. 
The only thing left for him, in his disillusion, is to 


weave illusions about himself, and even to imagine 
that he is the hero of his own romantic lies. Peer 
Gynt is the tremendous prototype of Sentimental 
Tommy. After many adventures, by sea and by 
land, Peer returns home in the end, a pitiful and 
hopeless failure in all save worldly goods. He can- 
not gain admittance even to. hell; for even as a sin- 
ner, he is only second-rate. He has. lacked the great- 
ness to sin greatly. He must go at once into the 
crucible of the great Button-Molder, be melted 
down and cast again. For, after all, he is only base 

Ibsen's effort is to arouse the world, to open Its 
eyes to a freer, richer future, to point out the need 
for ridding itself of false ideals — ideals which can- 
not be realized in acts. Not the least strange fea- 
ture of Ibsen's career is the fact that he started 
from the innermost depths of romanticism. Only 
gradually and painfully did he work himself up and 
out of the slough of romanticism on to the firm 
ground of realism, and into the pure air of freedom 
and truth. Ibsen has come now to the end of 
romanticism. All his discouragements and disap- 
pointments, the apathy, indifference and hostility he 
experienced, bred in him a spirit of discontent and 
revolt. This revolt is gq^ng to find expression in a 
long and detailed exposure of modern civilization, 
its venerable and antiquated institutions, its shal- 
low and outworn ideals, its feebly conventional mor- 


als, Its pettiness, weakness and hypocrisy. Here- 
after we see Ibsen probing the secrets of the age. 
" My vocation is to question, not to answer; " so he 
expresses the world-thoughts that are in the air, 
voices the spirit of the age, taps the moral coin of the 
era only to find it debased or counterfeit. Ibsen 
now begins a new career : the breach with his country 
sounds in his sardonic lines, written in July, 1872: 

My countrymen, who filled for mc deep bowls 

Of wholesome bitter medicine, such as gave 

The poet, on the margin of his grave, 

Fresh force to fight where broken twilight rolls, — 

My countrymen, who sped me o'er the wave, 

An exile, with my griefs for pilgrim-robes, 

My fears for burdens, doubts for staff, to roam, — 

From the wide world I send you greeting home. 

I send you thanks for gifts that help and harden, 
Thanks for each hour of purifjring pain; 

Each plant that springs in my poetic garden 
Is rooted where your harshness poured its rain; 

Each shoot in which it blooms and burgeons forth 

It owes to that gray weather from the North; 

The sun relaxes, but the fog secures! 

My cotmtry, thanks ! . My life's best gifts were yours. 


Artificial as it is under any exalted standard of 
dramatic art, The League of Youth marks a point 


of departure of incalculable importance in Ibsen's 
career. At last he has discovered the true medium 
for fh f <^^n PtY comedy — the t erse, pliant prose of 
daily speech^ While this play exhibits all the ear- 
marks of Ibsen's apprenticeship in the school of 
Scribe, it betrays marked independence and origi- 
nality — in the realistic coloring of the dialogue, the 
prosaic naturalness of the conversations, and the 
omission of all monologues and asides. It is what 
Ibsen calls a " peaceful work " — the product, not 
of wine and walnuts, so to speak, but of Budweiser 
and Bologna. This satire upon the prevailing po- 
litical conditions in Norway is provincial, indeed 
suburban, in tone; and gives an excellent handle to 
Ibsen's detractors. No wonder it caused an uproar 
— being a blow at Bjornson, or at least, as Ibsen 
claimed, at his lie-steeped clique ! One cannot blame 
Bjornson for royal indignation over what he termed 
Ibsen's " attempted assassination." The play is 
a complex of intrigues; and misunderstandings and 
mishaps play a large part in the action. The 
greatest merit of the play is its foreshadowing 
of the modern woman. At one point, little Selma 
Bratsberg vehemently exclaims : " Oh, how you 
have maltreated me — shamefully maltreated me, 
all of you together 1 You have always compelled 
me to receive, and never permitted me to give. 
You have never required the least sacrifice of me, 
nor laid upon me the slightest weight of care. 



When I asked to share your burdens, you put me 
off with a flattering jest. How I hate and detest 
you I You have brought me up to be dandled like 
a doll, and to be played with, as one plays with a 
child." In this speech is found the seed of that 
revolt against the false standard for women then In 
vogue. Brandes told Ibsen that the character of 
Selma did not have sufficient scope, and urged Ibsen 
to write another play to that end. Ibsen brooded 
over that suggestion, and in Nor a, pj^A DqlZl 
House, he created a Selma with the wide world for 

I^ofessor Lorenz Dietrlchson, Ibsen^s life- 
long friend, once told me, when I visited him In 
Rome, that it was he who first directed Ibsen's at- 
tention to the career of the Emperor Julian. In 
this monumental work of imagination and philoso- 
phic conflict, the labor of years, Ibsen achieved 
neither a great drama for the stage, in which the 
characters " stand solidly in the light of their time," 
nor a fundamentally coherent philosophical synthesis. 
This " world-historic " drama, in two parts of five 
acts each, Casar^s Apostasy and The Emperor 
Julian, purports to portray Ibsen's deepest spiritual 
experiences through the medium of the soul of 
Julian, the theatre for the warring religious tenets of 
the ancient and modern worlds. Instead of showing 
us a supreme world-figure, consistently evolving un- 
der the pressure of profound conviction, Ibsen 


projects a colossal egomaniac, victim of philosophic 
dilettantism. As Brand stood for rigo rous fidelity 
to an idea, and Peer Gynt for the disciplinary bank- 
ruptcy of laxity. Emperor and Galilean stan ds for 
the struggle towards thie golde n mean, the high er 

*?(B>«"*^.*- -..* i^-ri^^.""!"'' ,— -Wfvw "li^t - ■•''><«i>s<'iiiUiiii|fiviMPM«aHH^|[||^^^B«aMaiiiMl3LH««ahHM>' 

synthesis of truth. In his effort at the reconciliation 
of pagan beauty %nd Christian Truth, Julian is a 

tragic failure — for, having repudiated his mission, 
he cannot achieve the " vision splendid " of the 
"Third Empire, in which the twin-natured shall 

One prose play intervenes between The League of 
Youth and A DolVs House — the play with which 
Ibsen conquered Germany. German critics extrava- 
gantly confessed : " We found our aesthetic creeds— 
our young eyes were opened by it to all the theatric 
artificiality of the day. We trembled with joy." 
How strangely these words sound — in view of the 
theatric artificiality so patent to-day in The Pillars 
of Society, Ibsen's first attempt at the " photography 
by comedy" which Bjornson had urged on Ibsen 
eight years before. 

Consul Bernick, the protagonist of the play, is a 
pillar of society in his native town — its leading 
citizen and financier. His is a model home ; his firm 
enjoys an established reputation; he himself is 
looked up to as a man of high honor and business 
integrity. But this pillar of society has for foun- 
dation the treacherous sands of sham, hypocrisy 


and lies. In *his youth, Bernick had been guilty 
of grave indiscretions, financial and sexual, the 
blame for which he succeeded in foisting upon his 
brother-in-law. In his youth, Bernick betrayed the 
woman he loved in order to marry an heiress. He 
builds his house and reputation upon this insecure 
foundation. He lives a triple lie — to his wife, to 
his brother-in-law, to the sweetheart of his youth. 
In the end, his early sweetheart, aided by circum- 
stances, brings him to a realization of the hypocrisy 
of his position; and he is brought sharply face to 
face with the alternative of silence and success, or 
revelation and ruin. Fortified by the noble counsel 
of his former sweetheart he confesses all — to his 
wife, and to his fellow-townsmen assembled en masse 
to do him honor. In the end, he declares that the 
true and faithful women are the pillars of society; 
but his former sweetheart replies : " No, no ; the 
spirits of Truth and Freedom — these are the Pil- 
la rs or bo ciety. Ihese spirits Ibsen invokes again 
anTlg^" in his later plays — that truth which 
means unfaltering recognition of fact and unflinching 
facing of reality, that freedom which connotes en- 
franchisement from the false ideals of a false society. 
As a realistic picture of m odern life. The Pillars 
ofS ociety is notewo rthy; ^nd it is deserving of rec- 
ord that the crucial incident of The Indian Girl 
found its origin in Samuel PlimsoU's agitation in 
England, fully reflected in the press of Norway, for 


proper legal regulations concerning insurance upon 
unsetworthy crafts. As a drama, its technique is 
very vulnerable : Ibsen has not yet written his com- 
plete declaration of independence from the school of 
Scribe. Moreover, it is conventional, both in treat- 
ment and solution. Misrepresentation, evil and in- 
trigue prevail for a time ; wrong rules while waiting 
justice sleeps. In the end comes retribution — right 
prevails and truth is triumphant. But in reality 
Bernick is reformed, not by conflict with fate, but 
by providential intervention with a sort of death- 
bed-repentance effect at the end. Not otherwise are 
reformed the fascinating villains of the Adelphi. 
The Pillars of Society is a melodrama of the 

^In A Doll's House, Ibsen first definitively sounded 
the trumpet-call oF woman's freedom^ This is his 
first drama wholly moHern"ln tendency. The de^ 
nouement is so startling, so tremendous, so anti- 
social that when Francisque Sarcey first saw it in 
Paris, he threw up his hands in horror, declaring 
that he didn't understand a word of it. Here, in 
advanced maturity of technique, we behold the 
struggle of the modern woman against the vitiating 
influence of her environment, her heredity, and the 
social conventions which retard her development as 
an individual and as a human being. 

The story is so familiar that it needs no recital 
here. The real significance of the play consists as 


much In Ibsen's attitude towar(k, the ^^ Woman 
Question " as in Nora's method of solution. Ibsen 
entered the lists as woman's champion, not in a 
partisan spirit, but because he realized that the cause 
of woman was the caus e of humanit y. It was an 
evolutionary growth of his spirit from the days 
when he tragically pictured woman as under the 
necessity of self-sacrifice and service for others. 
The ** Woman Question," with Ibsen, was not a 
mere question of the vote — he wished women to 
secure such representation whenever her talents and 
sense of responsibility entitled her thereto. But to 
Ibsen, the " Woman Question " meant primarily the 
question as to the po sition of woman in m^yriage — 
as exemplified In A Doll's House, Ghosts and The 
Wild Duck. Even in the preliminary draft for A 
DolPs House, Nora observes that the laws are made 
by man, and that contemporary society means a so- 
ciety for men, not a society for human beings. It 
is a mark of Ibsen's human insight, as well as of his 
artistic detachment, that, In Nora, he reveals the 
New Woman still deeply rooted In the old Eve. 
She still employs all the arts of cajole r y, of way. 
wardness, ^^J?^^*^^"fl.^^^'nf'^^^n frf Sfimrnc her 
own^xnds.. And yet, even in the midst of that mad, 
despairing tarantella, we know that the old Eve Is 
about to tear away the mask which conceals the mod- 
ern woman. From Schopenhauer, Ibsen passed un- 
der the influence of the evolutionary theories of 


Darwin and Spencer, In A Doll's House, Nora 
furnishes a striking illustration ot the inheritance 
or characteristics; ana we feel very strongly 
that, m another environment, Krogstad might have 
been an honorable citizen of society. From the 
tragic spectacle of Dr. Rank, Nora first grasps the 
principle of hereditary responsibility; and her spir- 
itual development springs from the fixed conviction 
that she can become responsible for the welfare 
of her children only by gaining responsibility for 
herself and acquiring knowledge of society through 
contact with the great world. Environment, the 
treatment she has received from her father and her 
husband, has cultivated in her all the weaker and 
none of the stronger elements of her nature. She 
realizes, in Ibsen's own words, that everyone " shares 
the responsibility and guilt of the society to which 
he (or she!) belongs."- 

The continuity of Ibsen's development is strik- 
ingly revealed in one artistic quality. Later 
entire dramas are foreshadowed in sinde charac- 
ters and episodes of some preceding p lay. Tonn 
(jrabriel Borkman is prengured in Consul Bernick; 
meauxlliary figure of Ellida^ Wangel in T^feg Lady 
From the Sea becomes the heroine of The Master- 
Builder; the tragic figure of Dr. Rank as the victim 
of parental incontinence oecomes tEe morTpoignantiy 
tragic figure of Oswald Alvin_g in Ghosts. Society 
held up its hands in holy horror because Nora 


abandoned her children rather than surrender her 
individuality; but instead of shaking, this only con- 
firmcH^bsen in his conviction that " the time had 
come for some boundary posts to be removed." In 
Ghosts, Ibsen gives his terrible answer to the ques- 
tion : " Do the children really benefit by the 
mother's surrender in living a lie in marriage?" 
The conditions of Nora Helmer and Helen Alving 
are by no means identical; nor were any such disas- 
trous consequences prophesied for the children of 
the morally upright Helmer as fell to the lot of the 
son of the dissolute Chamberlain Alving. Nor is 
it at all clear that Helen Alving was acting with 
poise and entire sanity in throwing herself at the 
head of Pastor Manders. But it is perfectly clear 
that Helen Alving, by remaining in the hideous 
bonds of a bargain-and-sale marriage forced upon 
her by the pressure of her mother, her two aunts 
and her minister, committed a great wrong. And 
her final revolt was so subversive, so wide a swing 
of the pendulum from the mark of sanity, as to 
accentuate her feminine extravagance to the detri- 
ment of the purposed import of the play. 

Ghosts aroused a tornado of abuse unequalled, 
It may be, in the history of the drama. Even to- 
day this play is forbidden production in Great 
Britain; and the King's Reader of Plays, before a 
Parliamentary Commission, recently expressed the 
conviction that it would never be allowed produc- 


tion in Great Britain. It is generally conceded to 
be the strongest, most terrible play of the nineteenth 
century. In 1898, Otto Brahm, the distinguished 
German critic, wrote : " The gates to the most mod- 
ern German drama were opened when Ghosts first 
appeared on a German stage." William Archer 
termed Ghosts the harbinger of the whole dramatic 
movement in Europe, and Georg Brandes said that 
it was, if not the greatest achievement, at any rate 
the noblest action of the poet's career. In it, Ibsen 
finally concretizes his faith in the human being's 
right to happiness. Its basis is found, not in Kirke- 
gaard, Schopenhauer or any European thinker, but 
in John Stuart Mill who, m Ins 'TTtiJtiarianism 
(translated into Danish by Georg Brandes in 1872) , 
posits " an existence, possibly free from sorrow and 
possibly rich in joy, in quality as well as in quantity.'* 
To Mill is doubtless attributable Ibsen's dramatic 
formulation of man's right to happiness. In dra- 
matic technique. Ghosts is superb — the retrospec- 
tive method of Greek tragedy brought to perfection. 
A performance I once witnessed in Christiania, by 
a notable cast, left a most profound impression upon 
me; and yet the most significant features of the play 
as then presented were its marked provincialism 
in that peculiarly local setting, and the interpreta- 
tion, in Manders, of the normal Norwegian parson 
of half a century or more ago as an incredibly snivel- 
ling and contemptible hypocrite. One of the most 


profoundly moving exhibitions of human emotion I 
can conceive of was given in the interpretation of 
Helen Alving, not by Ola Hansson, but by Miss 
Mary Shaw. In Ghosts^ Ibsen gives enduring 
dramatic exemplification to the memorable words of 
Maurice Maeterlinck: "We know that the dead 
do not die. We know that it is not in our churches 
they are to be foimd, but in the houses, the habits of 
us aU." 

When Ghosts awoke in Norway a positive howl 
of execration that resounded throughout Europe, 
Ibsen could restrain himself no longer. He had 
come to the limit of his endurance of the obloquy 
that had been heaped upon him ever since the days 
of The Comedy of Love. His conception of the 
function of the dramatist had gradually enlarged; 
he now unfalteringly assumed responsibility for the 
morals of others. Hitherto, with solemn periodic- 
ity, Ibsen's plays had followed each other at inter- 
vals of two years. An Enemy of the People was ^'^ 
conceived and executed with passionate haste in the 
spring and summer months of 1882. This gay, yet 
intense play, so humorous and yet so trenchant, is 
devoid of all genuine " love-interest " ; it is Ibsen's 
most polemic play. 

The impulsive, choleric Dr. Stockmann discovers 
that the baths of his native town, a celebrated health 
resort, are contaminated. Instead of possessing 
healing and life-giving properties, in reality the min- 



eral water spreads contagion and disease. Scorn- 
fully disregarding the fact that the baths are the 
greatest source of revenue for the town, Stockmann 
exposes to the leaders of the community his discov- 
ery of the crime they are committing against so- 
ciety. But the most valued possession of the pillars 
of society hangs in the balance : their " graft " will 
dwindle to nothing, if they are forced to vast ex- 
penditure for the purpose of ascertaining and oblit- 
erating the source of contamination. With sublime 
effrontery, characteristic of a Tweed or a Ruef, the 
owners of the baths disregard Stockmann's revela- 
tions; and through clever but specious arguments, 
they secure the support of the majority of the com- 
munity. " It will disturb business " and " threaten 
prosperity " — ah, what familiar words here in 
America I Then only does Stockmann awake to a 
realization that, not merely are the baths con- 
taminated, but the very well-springs of the society in 
which he lives are poisoned at their sources. This 
e bravely and defiantly proclaims with all the force 
of a scientific muck-raker at a tremendous mass- 
meeting. He is declared an enemy of the people, 
ostracized, stoned. 

An Enemy of fhe P^o^f is Ibsen's dramatic incar- 
nation of his gradually matured th eory tha t the mT 
nority is always nghL^nFTe^had' aT firm faSh in that 
" saving remnant," the minority; he rested his bope,- 
as he said, upon the " minority which leads the van 


and pushes on to points which the majority has not 
yet reached/ ^^ It is not Public Opinion, the Ma- 
jority, which improves the prevailing order of the 
world, but 

" Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog, 
In public duty and in private thinking/' 

Ibsen regarded himself as a '' solitary franc-tireur 
at the outposts " ; and he wrote to Brandes from 
Rome on January 3, 1882: "I receive more and 
more corroboration of my conviction that there is 
something demoralizing in engaging in politics and 
in joining parties. It will never, in my case, be pos- 
sible for me to join a party that has the majority on 
its side. Bjornson says : * The majority is always 
right' And as a practical politician he is bound, I 
suppose, to say so. I, on the contrary, must of ne- 
cessity say: * The minority is always right.' " 

Strangely enough, Ibsen has confessed that Bjorn- 
son, as well as Jonas Lie, was in his mind when he 
drew the picture of the bluff, spontaneous, genial 
Stockmann. Ibsen confessed to Hegel that he got 
along famously with Stockmann : " We agree on so 
many subjects. But the doctor is a more muddle- 
headed person that I am." He may even have had 
Brandes in mind, at times. But it has recently come 
to light that the most obvious model for Stockmann 
was Harold Thaulow, the father of the painter and 
the cousin of Henrik Wergeland. He was by na- 


ture an agitator, a reformer, who deeply loved his 
people and yet was continually in hot water through 
his effort to reform them. Only two weeks before 
his death, at the General Assembly of February 23, 
1 88 1, he made a violent attack upon the society 
known as " Dampf-Kiiche." He declared that there 
was no greater humbug in Christiania than this so- 
ciety, and continued for three-quarters of an hour 
in this strain. The colloquy which ensued, repro- 
duced in the Aftenpost, leaves no doubt as to Ibsen's 
source for the leading feature of An Enemy of the 

Thaulow: I won't permit my mouth to be shut (con- 
tinues his address). 

Consul Heftye: Herr Thaulow must stop! 

Thaulow (reads on). Some express their disapproval 
by ostentatiously walking around the hall. 

The president asks the assembly whether it recognizes his 
right to refuse Herr Thaulow the floor. Unanimous as- 

The president again requests Herr Thaulow to desist. 

Thaulow: I won't permit my mouth to be shut. 

President: Then we will proceed with the order of the 
day — 

Thaulow: I will cut it very short (reads on). 

Heftye: May he read on? 

Thaulow (continues) : " The splendid result of the 
Christiania * Dampf-Kiiche ' . . ." I'm almost through — 

Heftye: At this rate the General Assembly will go to 


President: I am sorry I have to interrupt Herr Thau- 
low. You mustn't speak — 

Thaulow reads on. 

Hef tye : Stop — or you must leave the halL 

Thaulow: Just one word more (sinks exhausted into a 

The president now proceeds with the reading of the 
official report. 

Thaulow listens grumblingly to the report, and several 
times makes an efibrt to gain a hearing. 

When the opposition became too strong, he finally 
gave up the struggle and went away with the words : 
" I will have nothing more to do with you. I am 
tired of casting pearls before swine. This is in- 
fernal misuse among a free people in a free society. 
Well — my respects to you — go on, then, to your 
family meal ! " 


The Wild Duck is Ibsen's first step along a new 
path. "This Is "tf lie In a double sense. Heretofore, 
Ibsen has been giving very positive, very defiant n^ 
solutions to the questions he himself has posed. In 
many cases, he even goes so far as to formulate his 
solution of the dramatic complex in a single mo- 
mentous action or even in a memorable, solitary 
phrase. The Wild Duck first fully justifies Ihsca'si 
stateiuent that his vocation was to question^rathcT » 
thantQ,,answcn ..No one was so sure of this as 


Ibsen himself; he said that, to all, this play offered 
" problems worth the solving." Moreover, its point 
of departure, in another striking phase, is pro- 
claimed by Ibsen in the words : " This new play 
in some ways occupies a place apart among my pro- 
ductions; its method of development is in many re- 
spects divergent from that of its predecessors." To 
Mr. Archer, The Wild Duck is a consummation 
rather than a new departure. A strange judgment, 
in view not only of Ibsen's own words, but also in 
view of the patent fact that here, for the first time, 
Ibsen sets his foot in the alien path of symbolism, — 
Ithat symbolism so strangely interwoven in Rosmers* 
holm, so mystic in Little Eyolf, so magically potent 
in The Lady From the Seal The disquieting figure 
of the wounded wild duck, suggested to* Ibsen as a 
dramatic symbol by Welhaven's beautiful poem The 
Sea Bird, flutters mysteriously through this disturb- 
ing play — symbolizing now the wounded soul of 
Werle, now the " evil genius of the house " (baldly 
stated in the " forework "), now the symbolic adum- 
bration of the fateful secret of Hedwig's parentage 
bequeathed by the old Werle to the Ekdal family. 

It is usual for critics to find in The Wild Duck 
an expression of Ibsen's dark pessimism, distrust 
in his mission, incipient disbelief in " the claim of 
the ideal." It is interp reted as a reaction agains t 
the dogmatic " All or Nothing " of Brand, against 


Stockmann's cocksureness i n the virtu e of his mis- 
sion in 4n Enemy of the People, In The JVild 
Duck, does Ibsen merely question whether " the 
bitter tonic-draught of truth " is the fundamental 
pre-requisite for the happiness and well-being of hu- 
manity, as it now is, or even as it may be for 
Heaven knows how long yet to come ? This seems 
to me to be a superficial judgment. The real prob- 
lem around which Ibsen's mind continually hovered 
was the problem, for the individual, of discovering 
himself in life. In the very year in which he wrote 
The JVild Duck, Ibsen spoke, not once, but twice, in 
letters, of " the duty and the right, of realizing one's 
self." Self-realization, in its amplest sense, for Ib- 
sen, means not only the discovery of one's mission, 
but also the discovery of the great meaning, the 
great happiness even, that life Holds for the individ- 
ual soul. The JVild Duck is a dark and ironic com- 
mentary upon the wrong-headed reformer, who 
would turn the world upside down in a mad and 
meddlesome effort to realize his own extravagant 
ideals. This play is as little a reduction ad absur^ 
dum of Ibsen's own doctrine and ideal of the ef- 
ficacy of truth as How He Lied to Her Husband 
is a caricature of Candida. In Hjalmar Ekdal's 
attitude towards Gina is satirized the absolute moral 
demand of Svava Riis in Bjornson's A Glove (Sep- 
tember, 1883), as Elias and Koht have pointed out. 


And in Gregers Wcrlc is mordantly satirized that 
" untutored idealism " — of which we have recently 
heard so much in America. 

Gregers Werle is in pursuit of illusions. He is 
that " sick conscience " which subsequently found 
such memorable incarnation in Halvard Solness. 
He is the inevitable product of his own environment 
and his own heredity. In his reaction against the 
Life Lie of his own father, he absorbs the idee fixe 
of a mother rendered morbid and hysterical by her 
own domestic tragedy. With a grotesque mania for 
hero-worship and a ludicrous misapprehension of the 
moral bankruptcy of Hjalmar Ekdal, Gregers Werle 
flourishes aloft the banner of the ideal and revels in 
bearing heedless witness to the truth. In his mis- 
guided efforts to force upon weaker vessels, made of 
common clay, that which they are unable to hold, he 
succeeds only in shattering them into fragments. 
His passion for communicating to others his " fever 
for doing right" leaves disaster and death in his 
wake. " Oh, life would be quite tolerable, after 
all," says Relling — the real Ibsen speaking, un* 
doubtedly in propria persona — " if only we could 
be rid of the confounded duns that keep on pestering 
us, in our poverty, with the claim of the ideal." 

Nowhere has Ibsen's power of minute and vera- 
cious characterization showed itself so supreme. 
Gregers Werle is the classic embodiment of the mis- 
guided reformer. Hjalmar Ekdal Is Ibsen's most 


striking embodiment of the pitiable moral bankrupt, 
self-deceiving^ self-deceived — grotesquely failing to 
live up to standards inconsiderately applied from 
without. He is the tragic figure of the average 
sensual man, betrayed by ideals he has not really 
made his own — feeding upon his illusions, those 
illusions by which his very peace of mind, his happi« 
ness, are conditioned. Gina Ekdal, without any 
ideals save the eminently materialistic, eminently 
prosaic desire to preserve the comfortable status 
quo, is irresistibly natural and likable — perhaps be* 
cause she is so utterly of the earth earthy. The 
gentle Hedwig, tender, appealing, young enough to 
make a hero of her selfish father, too young to detect 
his glaring faults, is Ibsen's most poetic feminine 
figure. Bjornson acknowledged, after learning to 
know Ibsen's sister Hedwig, who served as the model 
for the Hedwig of the play, that he at last under- 
stood what a debt Ibsen's bent towards mysticism 
owed to heredity. The _JV%ld Duck has ^egi ifi-% 
garde d as a perfect exaniple of Ibsen *8 individu al 

But its most lamentable technical fault 
has been succinctly pointed out by Bernard Shaw: 
"The logic by which Gregers Werle persuades 
Hedwig to kill the wild duck in order that she may 
be provided with a pistol to kill herself, strains my 

From this time forward, Ibsen's plays concern 
themselves less and less with society, more and more 


WfdK;4indI\^]fd!iialt problems of character and con- 
sciqiddi;:! Jtkstias The Wild Duck marks the transi- 
tion i fiioni' .realism to symbolism, so Rosmersholm 
Bi^rks/ the. transition from society to the individual. 
Aif tec thisi poiht, Ibsen's dramas are no longer'socio- 
logiial^^fiTlidj^ are psychological, and at times psy- 
ehioy rfcehbefan}' themselves with the inner life of 
t^ougiiiA and/ conscience, and verge ever towards sym- 
bdJicism^-niy-sticism and poetry. It is mediately true 
that tweo&bd the sociological Ibsen in Bernard Shaw, 
th^ ^syniboijeal Ibsen in Maurice Maeterlinck, the 
piiybholo^iosl Ibsen in Gerhart Hauptmann. Many 
yeaifs:'jaigo,:,Georg Brandes declared that at one 
p^eriohitof^ihis career, Ibsen had had a lyric Pegasus 
krlledrnaindcr him. After reading The Lady From 
the i^m^' ^The Master-Builder and fFhen We Dead 
}iimken^*wc realize that Brandes saw no further 
thah'thteijj resent. Wounded and dormant lay the 
iriflgbd<^ steed through the middle years; but in time 
itsi strength returned, its pinions were once more 
lifitffartedi and it bore its rider over the lower slopes 
difjlatar lif e. 

: 7/Iti!^7lk^ Wild Duck Ibsen r eaches the extreme 
p^^V6f']mjt^\\^TS^ Here he brings us face to face 
WrtH M cheap, earthenware souls '* ; here he paints, 
id igavish colors, the unromantic hero — that ludi- 
crous contradiction in terms. At last we have the 
tt\i€4^d^urffeois drama, dealing with the thoughts and 
f&si^iDiYS, the loves and hates, the comedies and 


tragedies, of people such as we brush against every 
day in the street. The protagonist of to-day has 
" lost the last gleam from the sunset of the heroes." 
Here is the hero manque, struggling in vain against 
the overwhelming pressure of environment, the 
brand of heredity, the coil of circumstance, the 
chains of character, the damning verdict of self- 
mockery, self-distrust, and self-contempt. In Ros* 
mersholm, the leading characters lose none of their 
absorbing interest because one is a pseudo-reformer, 
weak-kneed if high-minded, and the other a crim- 
inal adventuress. This play brings Ibsen into juxta- 
position with Nietzsche; for the real drama takes 
place in a spiritual region of quasi-ethical conscious- 
ness beyond good and evil. 

" The call to work," wrote Ibsen on February 13, 
1887, " is certainly distinguishable throughout Ros- 
mersholm* But the play also deals with the strug- 
gle with himself which every serious-minded man 
must face in order to bring his life into harmony 
with his convictions. For the different spiritual 
functions do not develop evenly and side by side in 
any human being. The acquisitive Instinct hastens 
on from conquest to conquest. The moral con- 
sciousness, the conscience, on the other hand, is very 
conservative. It has deep roots and traditions in 
the past generally. Hence arises the conflict In the 
individual. But first and foremost, of course, the 
play is a creative work, dealing with human beings 


and human destinies." In this succinct exposition, 
Ibsen, as it were, disengages the various leading mo- 
tives ; from it, we may learn the motive forces of the 
action of the play. The call to work is less generally 
human than specially local : it refers more distinctly 
to the situation in Norway. The secondary motive 
constitutes the play's inner meaning: the struggle to 
J bring one's life into conformity with one's ideals — 
\ the old Ibsen strugle for self-realization. And 
fundamentally, the play does not so much point a 
conclusive moral, as exhibit a drama of the struggle 
of human souls, a picture of fainting and aspiring 

Johannes Rosmer is a far more impressive victim 
of heredity, in his " tender-minded " conscience 
which, even in an atmosphere of pure scepticism, 
looks back to the revengeful standards of an Old 
Testament God, than ever was Oswald Alving with 
his tainted body. He has read John Stuart Mill; 
and, like Mill, has written (see the " forework") a 
book in which he proclaims happiness as the goal of 
existence. And yet he has not made the thoughts 
and ideas of the new time his own; they have laid 
their hold on him, less by virtue of their own inher- 
ent logic and efficacy, than by reason of the influ- 
ence of Rebekka West's artful insinuations. What 
these thoughts and ideas are, other than those of 
Mill, it is difficult to say ; but certain it is, from the 
evidence of the preliminary draft, that Rosmer 


and Rebekka had been reading together Henry 
George's Progress and Poverty (1880) which ap- 
peared in a Norwegian translation in 1 885-1 886 
under the title Fremskridt og fattigdom. Paul Ree's 
book on the genesis of conscience (1885) "^^^^ \i^yt 
been read by Ibsen during the progress of Rosmers- 
holm; Rosmer carries too many traits accentuated 
by Ree. The tender-minded Rosmer must have 
been drawn in the light of Ree's theorem : " Anyone 
who, from his youth up, has been thoroughly ac- 
customed to the thought that there is a God and 
that it is sinful to say: 'The conception of God 
Is absurd,' will in later life, even after his belief has 
turned to unbelief, seldom mention the fact and then 
only with reluctance and distaste." 

In Rosmersholm, Ibsen has penetrated more 
deeply into the soil o f human conscience than in any 

Other of his works. He knows each one of his 

characters down to the last convolution of the brain, 
down to the ultimate fold of the soul. Rebekka 
West is Ibsen's most intense female figure — alike in 
the clarity of her vision, the scope of her purpose, 
and the development of her character. She stands 
under the curse of the past — the past which the 
** white horse " of Rosmersholm mysteriously sym- 
bolizes. She scornfully holds herself superior to the 
obligations of conscience; and even in the end, we 
feel that her spirit, not her conviction, is broken. 
She wields every weapon of intrigue, artifice and 


cunning to accomplish her purpose, all under the 
specious guise of a champion of freedom — the free- 
dom of truth; and yet, at last, she goes to her doom 
because she feels that such freedom can only be 
attained by one whose soul is pure. She is a radical 
broken upon the wheel of Rosmer's conservatism. 

. Fantasy plays its part in this drama of the in- 
terior life; and Ulrik Brendel belongs in the category 
of the " Rat Wife " in LMe Eyolf and " the Stran- 
ger " in The Lady From the Sea. He speaks with 
veiled wisdom in the language of a visitant from a 
fantastic, supersensible world — the Ibsen chorus in 
full swing. To those living in a country where 
wealth accumulates and men decay, where fortune 
and fame seem in themselves to be the sole aim of 
existence, the words of Brendel come with poignant 
significance : " Peter Mortensgaard has the secret 
of omnipotence. He can do whatever he will. For 
Peter Mortensgaard never wills more than he can 
do. Peter Mortensgaard is capable of living his 
life without ideals. And that, do you see — ^.that is 
just the mighty secret of action and of victory. It 
,is the sum of the whole world's wisdom." 
/ If Mr. Courtney is correct In positing the failure 
\ to achieve one's mission on earth as the quintessence 
\of contemporary tragedy, then Rosmersholm is 
I Ibsen's most tragic drama. It prefigures an ideal; 
/and conditions its attainment upon the destruction 
\of the only possible means thereto. Nothing short 

HENRIK IBSEN)>r):i s^i 

of Rebekka's sacrificial death can tatme JiiiRoanMr 
his lost faith in the possibiIity(iQjf)ennobling:Tfaiiinail- 
ity; and this sacriHce destroys^iibciiiisi^ th^iipqpsi- 
bility of remaining in life zit3b/d^tix^pihhm^j'thic 
work, which he might now beicdpsiUeioft^iriPei^ltK- 
ing, tragic antinomy! r,Li!I'I ,iis'. m\» v\iy\\ 

The Lady From the Sea, Iluicb^ ^niost^dniabviid 
charming play, embodies the l^piritaali^fealiettifMk of 
the longings and ideals for ^fdiibh'lfasen^s) hopwfii oob- 
tinually struggle — that 'Lsomekfaing > i6theni:>afW 
greater than life " which is at stake. .itb>« pofcrnidn 
psychotherapeutics, veiled iif t^^gtt'rbajf^mystiiaim. 
In Haeckel's Natiirlicher ^SckHpfuns^esvUichte^jldr 
perhaps in Darwin's Descent of .llfy^,nlh^winvtkt 
have read of that ^sh-speci6ci,< '^^^^ini/rjbjo^ 
olatus, which in his own words j(iA tihe if> forewiri^^^^ 
"forms the primordial dhak in-'Ukeij^toliitianfary 
chain." The Lady From t4i^^ &eaf finds ^it9 H3tiglit Jn 
Ibsen's perhaps not wholly fantastic <suppodifiati> that 
Xrudiments of it survive in ^boifianc|be^gSr'iu' ati^ilekst 
in the nature of some af usi -^'The iMportance'i^^f 
this origin is memorable/^ 'TM Lady^iFMomifhe'^Sw 
stems from Darwin and Hdeokek'^^Andi this: f 
lends additional weight ^o ^tbe at^enk»li thdii>ry^'df 
Jules de Gaultier to the^effddt ithat: iblseb^s^^effof ti Js 
to reconcile and conciliate die two biofogicaiji' 'hy- 
rpotheses: the invariability 0f$pectes and '^he imtitd- 
bility of organic forms:^ Pei4iapk^'theiii-ea5$0A>iwHy 
Ibsen is less successful In^ brldgflsg"tbe^tbast»^!be- 


tween the outer and the inner life Is because his . 
fundamental standpoint here is not mystical, but bio- 
logical. Heretofore Ibsen has shown the individual 
chiefly struggling with social forces and moral stand- 
ards which prevail in the world. In The Lady 
From the Sea, Ellida Wangel struggles against a 
force of Nature which has its rudiments deep-seated 
in her own nature. " The sea exercises over people 
the power of a mood, which works like a will," says 
Ibsen in his memoranda for this play. "The sea 
can hypnotize. Above all. Nature can. The great 
mystery is man's dependence upon the * will-less.* " 
Herein lies the explanation of Ellida's strange and 
dramatic struggle. 

In Rosmershalm, Johannes and Rebekka go down 
together in death because they have been unable to 
reconcile themselves with their environment. The 
Lady From the Sea has an enfranchising, sublimat- 
ing quality — showing the other side, the happy side, 
of the recurring problem of self-realization — EUi- 
da's ultimate reconcilement with her environment. 
In the preliminary draft, Wangel is an attomey-at- 
law; what a wonderfully dramatic heightening of 
the effect Ibsen achieves by making him a physician 
in the final form of the play! Wangel may be a 
comparatively unskilled physician of the body; 
but he is an incomparable physician of the soul. 
Through his selfless adoration for his wife, he 
achieves that " miracle of manly love " for which 


Nora Helmer longed in vain. His love for EUida 
teaches him the secret of alienism : that yielding alone 
can help the sick soul. He employs the familiar 
experiment: humoring the patient's fancies, and 
thereby lightening the forces of the past and of na- 
ture which become a positive obsession of the un- 

The problem lies deeper than this. Nature has 
its roots deeper than this: morality has behind it 
natural claims which transcend it. In a curious note 
Ibsen once made on a loose sheet of paper, he pre- 
figures the real solution for EUida's psychiatric ob- 
session : " Freedom consists in securing to the indi- 
vidual the right to free himself — each according to 
his own particular need.'' The dramatic climax of 
the third act is complete and convincing, when EUida 
says to Wangel, softly — and trembling : " Oh ! 
Wangel — save me from myself." Wangel opens 
the way for EUida's salvation from herself by can- 
celling the law's bargain. He secures to her the 
inner, spiritual right to freedom — freedom to act 
upon her own responsibility. . The real dramatic 
conflict of the play takes on a schematic cast; and 
perhaps it is the absence of any resort to physical 
action, in order to accentuate EUida's crucial de- 
cision, which weakens, dramatically, the ultimate 
climax. Even Ibsen found it difficult to vitalize the 
victory of psychology over hypnosis ! 

The Lady From the Sea is Ibsen's most romantic, 


jnost poetic prose drama. Ellida is a mermaid who 
defies domestication, symbolizing and catching up 
within herself all the sheen, vacillation and mys- 
tery of the wild, restless sea. Ibsen's symbolism is 
essentially romantic; and he harks back to the mys- 
terious, nameless lover, beloved of romance through- 
out the history of art " Nobody should know what 
he is," Ibsen said to Hoffory in a letter recently pub- 
lished ; '* just as little should anybody know who he 
is or what he is really called. This uncertainty is 
just the diief point in the method chosen by me 
for the occasion." This stranger, about whom so 
much romantic uncertainty hovers, seems to be the 
symbolic object of woman's longing for freedom, 
woman's tremulous and fearful passion for the un- 

What a contrast we find in Hedda Gablerf Ib- 
sen turns from imaginative poetry to irreducible 
fact, from mysticism to the hard coldness of elec- 
trically brilliant realism. In The Lady From the 
Sea, Ibsen's hand falters — the pronounced subplots 
are extraneous and subsidiary, unmotived by vital 
relation to the forward movement of the central 
action. In Hedda Gabler. Ibsen's techni cal virtu- 
osity once more shines out undimmed. " The title 
of the play is Hedda Gabler (not Tesman)^^^ Ibsen 
.wrote on December 4, 1890. "My intention in giv- 
ing it this name was to indicate that Hedda, as a 
personality, is to be regarded rather as her father's 


daughter than as her husband's wife. It was not my 
desire to deal in this play with so<alled problems. 
What I ppncipally wanted to do was to depict hu- 
man beings, human emotions, and human destinies, 
upon a groundwork of certain of the social condi- 
tions and principles of the present day." Hedda 
Gabler is not a problem play: it is a portrait play; 
the full-length portrait, in all its cold fascination, of 
the most repellently attractive woman in the modem 
drama. Bernard Shaw once blithely said that if 
people knew all that a dramatist thought, they would 
kill him; and Ibsen, like Sargent, always means in- 
finitely more than he says. "These arc no mere 
portrait busts . . ." says Rubek of his sculptures. 
"There is something equivocal, cryptic, luiidng in 
and behind these busts — a secret something that the 
people themselves cannot see." In the full-length 
statue of Hedda, we detect that " something equivo- 
cal, cryptic " lurking behind the dimly realized like- 
ness to a vampire. Hedda is the horrifying image 
of, not the Ewiff Weibliche, but the temporal 
womanly — which drives men backward and down- 
ward. In her are the traits of the treacherous 
Lorelei painted by Heine — faithless, inhuman, 
reptilian — luring man to destruction in the sea of 
sensuality. She reminds us of Philip Burne- Jones's 
picture — with a dash of Wedekind's Erdgeist. 
And yet she excites our mournful pity, if only we 
are sufficiently detached to reflect that Hedda, like 


Rank, Oswald, H edwig a nd the rest, is a victinL 
of heredity. This woman who stems ^rom a worn- 
out race is vastly interesting as a problem in eugenics ; 
when her father married, he was already a man old 
in years who had drained to the dregs the cup of 
sensual pleasure. " Perhaps that has left its mark 
upon me," says Hedda significantly, — in the fore- 
work; but 80 direct an allusion is omitted by Ibsen 
in the final draft. She gives pointed significance to 
the Biblical aphorism : '' The fathers have eaten 
sour grapes; and the children's teeth are set on 
edge." The appositeness of the phrase is immense : 
Hedda's tastes are all set on edge. With all the 
gifts that life can give, Hedda is the incarnation of 
ennui. Her tragedy is not that she fails to achieve 
her mission, but that she has no mission to achieve. 
From the little model of Gossensass, Emi]ie Bar- 
dach, Ibsen perhaps learned one trait for Hedda: 
that her desire to w'in the adoration of others is not 
for the sake of adoration, but for the thrill which the 
sense of possession and domination over others awak- 
ens in her. The other characters — the daemonic 
Lovborg, self-pitying, self-destroyed; Tesman, the 
quintessence of the methodical second-hand; Thea, 
this second childish Nora whose experiment so pite- 
ously fails — all dwindle into insignificance in the 
face of the characterless personality of Hedda. 
With intricately lascivious instincts, the sensual stig- 
mata of a degenerate father, Hedda '' hath already 


conunitted adultery in her heart." But the fear of 
the world's judgment mocks and terriHes her; she 
lacks the courage even of her own instincts. The 
play has been aptly termed the picture of a condition, 
not an action; and Ibsen has shown the utter deprav- 
ity of Hedda by laying bare her distorted soul at the 
very moment when woman's instincts are most sa- 
cred — in the face of coming modierhood. Flau- 
bert's words, of an earlier day, give a final judg- 
ment of the marvellous art of Ibsen as displayed in 
this terrible play : " The author in his work must be 
like God in the universe, present everywhere, and 
visible nowhere; art being a second nature, the 
creator of this nature must act by an analogous pro- 
cedure ; must make us feel in all the atoms, under all 
aspects, an impassibility secret, infinite; the effect 
for the spectator must be a species of amazement. 
How is it all done? one must ask, and one feels 
shattered without knowing why. . • ." 

" You are essentially right," wrote Ibsen to Count 
Prozor in March, 1900, "when you say that the 
series which closes with the Epilogue {JVhen We 
Dead Awaken) began with The M aster-Builder ^ 
And yet it must be realized that the "new method," 
upon which Ibsen relied in his later years, really 
began with The Lady From the Sea; and it is in 
this very play that Ibsen's master hand first wavers. 



Ibsen seems slowly to lose his powers when he leaves 
the domain of social relationship, and enters the 
untried fields of hypnotism and supernatural phe- 
nomena. And yet it cannot be denied that The Mas- 
ter-Builder is, of all Ibsen's plays, the densest in 
content, the one most provocative to a rich and ever 
richer measure of interpretation. Goethe once said 
he was inclined to believe that the more " incommen- 
surable " a work of art, the greater it is likely to 
prove. Incommensurable is the magic word for 
The Master-Builder. If the meaning of Hamlet, 
Macbeth or Kin^ Lear could be explained in a few 
words, it is reasonable to conclude that they would 
not rank as three of the greatest dramas ever writ- 
ten. In them are magic " over-tones," muted har- 
monics, which can be heard only by ears delicately 
attuned to their music. It is this profound and elu- 
sive quality, this power of stimulating the far reaches 
of mentality and imagination, which informs and ir- 
radiates The Master-Builder. No one will ever see 
down all the dim vistas of the imagination opened 
up by the speculative and brooding Hamlet, the 
crime-obsessed Macbeth, the palsied prophet of a 
cosmic ruin. King Lear, and the tottering idealist 
Solness, sent climbing to his fall. 

The Master-Builder reveals Ibsen hovering fasci- 
nated around the problem to which Nietzsche de- 
voted his life — a problem with which Ibsen had 
occupied himself before, and independently of 



Nietzsche. The motto of The Master-Builder 
might well be the words of Browning : 

" Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, 
Or what's a heaven for ? " 

And yet it is no heaven for which Solness longs, 
but that savage mundane time, that era of the 
" roaming blond beast," when man's instincts shall 
be given feral freedom. He aspires to live in the 
fierce light of the high noon of egoism — the day of 
Zarathustra, unbeclouded by the restraints of con- 
science. The Mast er-Builder is Ibsen's true tragedy 
of the guilty corjscience. Hilda, naive, fresh, im- 
perious, is Ibsen's fascinating projection of the Super- 
woman in spirit: a keen-eyed bird of prey, like a 
young falcon pouncing upon its marked-down vic- 
tim. And yet in the end, like Rebekka, her preda- 
tory instinct wavers before the imminent sense of 
moral responsibility. Solness, like Rosmer, sets too 
great store by that " glad guiltlessness " of the moral 
conservative, ever to do more than fail nobly. He 
believes, this mystic epileptic, that some people are 
" elect " ; that a certain " grace " is vouchsafed to 
them, whereby they may, by concentrating all the 
forces of their being upon the desired end, succeed 
in achieving it. Yet one cannot accomplish great 
things alone : one must call to his aid mysterious ^ 
powers, " helpers and servers," from the very depths X 
of his being. These come forth and subject them- 


selves to the master will This is what people mean 
/ by having Luck. And yet, this master over the des- 
tinies of others, finally, tragically fails; for he is 
neither master of himself nor free from the dis- 
quieting pangs of a gick conscience. " Let us not 
invoke the illimitable law of the universe, the in- 
tentions of history, the will of the worlds, the justice 
of the stars," says Maeterlinck in his essay on Luck. 
" These powers exist : we submit to them, as we 
submit to the might of the sun. But they act with- 
out knowing us ; and within the wide circle of their 
influence there remains to us still a liberty that is 
probably immense. They have better work on hand 
than to be forever bending over us to lift a blade 
of grass or drop a leaf in the little paths of our 
ant-hill. Since we ourselves are here the persons 
concerned, it is, I imagine, within ourselves that the 
key of the mystery shall be found ; for it is probable 
that every creature carries within him the best so- 
lution of the problem that he presents." 

Ibsen's last three dramas exhibit a gradual loosen- 
ing of the dramatist's hold upon vitally dramatic 
phases of human existence. Ibsen recedes farther 
and farther from the stage, and penetrates ever 
deeper into spheres of moral contemplation, self- 
examination, and introspection — " wild with all re- 
gret." Little Eyolf is a poignant study of the men- 
tal reactions from the problem of moral responsi- 
bility set up in die souls of a husband and wife 


through the neglect and loss of their little son, and 
the consequent struggles of conscience. With a cer- 
tain large-minded tolerance, Ibsen does not shrink 
from exhibiting, in a spirit of calm justice, the distor- 
tions imparted to sane existence by the single-idea-d 
passion to " live one's own life " — superficially 
classed as Ibsen's pet theory — irrespective of the 
larger social reactions. I felt that Nazimova, forti- 
fied by a consistent conception, endowed the character 
of Rita with a sort of alluring naturalism, and this in 
face of the fact that Ibsen's Rita is the repellent type 
of the exclusively carnal instinct. Because of just 
such patchwork characters as AUmers, with his fine- 
spun theories, mouth-filling phrases, and petty con- 
duct, Ibsen's repute as a dramatist suffers most. In 
this play are scenes most poignantly moving In tragic 
revelation, dark soul interiors suddenly illumined 
with lightning flashes of intuition. Yet we cannot 
share the sad optimism of Rita and AUmers in the 
sincerity of their altruistic purpose — the craving of 
the animal only slumbers, amateur idealism shall 
suffer attenuation through the sophistry of the 

Joh n Ca hriel Borkman is Ib sen's most quiescent, 
most petfeg tly jt atic drama. One may best describe 
IF^s an evocation oFa "state of mind. Ibsen here 
paints the peculiarly modem tjrpe of the megalo- 
maniac, the logical product of the industrial brig- 
andage of the late nineteenth century. Bork- 


man is a wounded Napoleon of finance shown in the 
last phase, fretting out his great mad soul in the 
St. Helena of his little room. He is the tragic vic- 
tim of colossal egotism ; the Nietzschean exemplar of 
the " higher morality " shattered upon the rock of 
inexorable legal justice. When We Dead Awaken^ 
Ibsen's sad epilogue, is at once a Calvary and a 
Resurrection. Like Nietzsche, Ibsen burned for 
great exhibitions of full-blooded egoism, aspired to 
tremendous struggles for that moral freedom which 
is beyond good and evil. And yet, like Solness, 
neither could climb as high as he built. In the life 
of daily actuality both were incapable of standing 
" high and free.*' Nietzsche's life and letters show 
it only too clearly; Ibsen's life, his experience with 
the little falcon of Gossensass, his moral reflections 
poured out in his latest plays, are all too . circum- 
stantial. In Rebekka West, in Hedda Gabler, in 
Halvard Solnesrs, in EUida Wangel, we see the nas- 
cent and maturing impulses of the " Will to 
Power " ; but Ibsen breaks down upon the frontiers 
;of the kingdom; he can never escape the eternal 
question: Has one the moral right? When We 
Dead Awaken Is the tragedy of life's disillusion : the 
discovery when it is too late that life's best gifts 

• have been wasted in pursuit of the illusory, rather 

* than of the enduring real. Great is Eros ; and Ibsen, 
. even Ibsen, is his prophet. The lesson of When We 

Dead Awaken^ perhaps the meaning of Ibsen's 



high, painful happiness " in old age, the hopeless 
longing for the irrevocably unattainable, is caught 
up in Robert Browning's memorable words from 
Youth and Art: 

" Each life's unfulfilled, yo|i see, 

It hang^ still, patchy and scrappy: 
We have not sighed deep, laughed free, 

Starved, feasted, despaired, been happy, 
And nobody calls you a dunce, 

And people suppose me clever: 
This could not have happened once, 

And we missed it, lost it forever/' 


Exaggeration lurks in the statement that Henrik 
Ibsen laid the foundations of a new school of 
art by enlisting naturalism in the service of social 
reforms. Rather is it true that, by veracious por- 
traiture of contemporary life, Ibsen sought the 
moral regeneration of the individual, and, indirectly, 
of society. The ideal is the eternal sovereign of the 
palace of life. Man perishes, but the ideal endures. 
" The ideal is dead, long live the ideal I " is the epi- 
tome of all human progress. In the evolutionary 
trend of human progress Ibsen rested his profound- 
est hope. The charge of nihilism he resented with 
the utmost bitterness. His heresy consisted in re- 
garding morality as fluid, evolutional; he insisted 


that ideals were functions of civilization. " It has 
been asserted on various occasions that I am a pessi- 
mist," Ibsen once remarked. " So I am to this ex- 
tent — that I do not believe human Ideals to be eter- 
nal. But I am also an optimist, for I believe firmly 
in the power of those ideals to propagate and de- 
velop." The cry of progress, in all ages, is the 
disillusioned cry of one of Ibsen*s own characters: 
" The old beauty is no longer beautiful, the new 
truth no longer true." Ibsen preferred to dedicate 
himself to the future; he sacrificed friends because 
he regarded them as an expensive luxury, and once 
was heard to quote approvingly Arthur Symons* 
line : ** The long, intolerable monotony of friends." 
It is always the future In which Ibsen puts his trust; 
and historical optimism describes his personal angle 
of vision. Like Nietzsche's fierce prophet Zara- 
thustra, Ibsen might well say of himself: *^ I am of 
to-day and of the past; but something Is within me 
that is of to-morrow, and the day after to-morrow^ 
and the far future." 

In matters of conduct, Ibsen has no golden rule 
for the governance of society. Bernard Shaw says 
of Ibsen's philosophy : " The golden rule is that 
there is no golden rule." Individual responsibility 
is the sole and ultimate test of conduct. Ibsen's 
whole Ideal of life may be expressed In the words 
of Polonius In Hamlet: 


" To thine own self be true 

And it doth follow, as the nig^t the day, 

Thou canst not then be false to any man." 

Ibsen advocates the naked assertion of the human 
will; but he never escapes the unsolved problem of 
moral right. 

His own Brand implacably declares : 

" Beggar or rich, — with all my soul 
I will; and that one thing's the whole." 

And yet Brand is Ibsen's most colossal, most 
tragic failure. Self-realization through conscious 
self-examination and active assertion of the human 
will — this Is the lesson of the Ibsenic dramas. Ib- 
sen is an evolutionist; and evolution teaches, if indi- 
rectly, that self-development, self-realization, if you 
will, should be the aim, both of the individual and 
of the race. " The expression of our own individ- 
uality is our first duty,'' Ibsen once said; and this 
doctrine he has exemplified in all his social dramas. 
If only every man be true to himself, if only every 
individual will seek his own highest development, 
there need be no fear for the future. It is in that 
future that the ^^ third kingdom " shall come. Ibsen 
once rose at a banquet and, in a toast as holy as a 
benediction, as solemn as a sacrifice, drank deep to 
das Werdende, das Kotntnende. When someone 




once remarked to Ibsen, in his latter years, that he 
would be fully understood in the distant future, Ib- 
sen eagerly replied : '' Js, wenn wir das nur glau- 
ben konntenf — Yes, if we only could believe 

What Ibsen desired was a revolution of the spirit 
f man. He fully recognized the moral quality of 
all human experience. And morality, as Nordau 
shrewdly puts it, is essentially optimistic, presup- 
posing conscious and rational efforts towards the 
realization of the maximum of human happiness. 
With the force of the moral ever at work within 
him, Ibsen has taught us in the school of our own 
lives. Before us he has held the mirror of his art- 
works; and therein we have recognized, sometimes 
with amazement, sometimes with horrified fascina- 
tion, sometimes with cursings and revilings, our own 
moral features, our own spiritual lineaments. None 
but ourselves have we met on the highway of fate. 
As Goethe said of Moliere, so say we of Ibsen : he 
has chastized us by painting us just as we are. His 
appeal is to the restless, disturbing life of our own 
day. And his dramas are his tentatives at the ques- 
tion which Tolstoi claims Shakspere never con- 
sciously proposed to himself : " Whpt arfi wr fll?v^ 
' for? " 

Ibsen's plays, his greatest plays, are universal 
A because they are laid in the inner life, the region of 
\ moral consciousness. His whole drama, from one 


aspect, may be regarded as a microscopic analysis 
of the morbid self-consciousness of modern life. 
The immediate effect of Ibsen's plays is to awaken 
thought, to induce reflection, to compel people to 
analyze and ponder grave questions of individual 
and social morality. Here we have a striking ex- 
ample of that desiderated publicity so widely her- 
alded to-day as the salvation of the business and com- 
mercial honor of democratic government. Ibsen 
does not^summon to immediate action : his appeal to 
what we are accustomed to call " the passions " is 
practically nil. His appeal is to that great and v' 
growing moral passion for social enlightenment 
which is permeating the entire civilized world. Ib- 
sen starts within the individual a train of meditation 
and reflection which may alter a life, which may 
even influence the whole world. Emerson says: 
To think is to act, 

Ibsen once said: ^' It should be the endeavor of 
every dramatist to improve the prevailing order of 
the world." Ibsen^s aim is to aid in the perfecting 
of individual and civil life. It seems, indeed, as 
Brunetiere says, that we of to-day are marching to- 
wards the socialization, the moralization of litera- 
ture. Since Ibsen has lived and written, literature 
has thrilled with a new joy — the passion for indi- 
vidual self-realization, the passion for a more just 
and perfect social order. 

The Genesis of His Dramas 

" To dramatize is to see/' 

Henrik Ibsen to Johann Paulsen. 

Like Goethe, like George Eliot, Henrik Ibsen 
was that rarest of products, an artistic temperament 
endowed with a scientific brain. ^.^AlwigjdtlL^^ 
gar Allan Poe, Ibsen must be ranked as a strange 
composite of scientific worker and art istic thinker. 
Wiffi unexampfeTTfanknessrEe^nce liKened himself 
to a surgeon holding the feverish pulse of society 
in the interests of universal sanity. And yet his 
art seems like the work of a magician; and about 
the composition of his well-nigh flawless plays there 
is something of the air of prestidigitation. The 
cloak of mystery in which he veiled himself from 
all the world, even from his wife and son, well 
served Ibsen's purpose of exciting endless specula- 
tions as to the manner of creation of those marvel- 
lous dramas which give positive character and qual- 
ity to the age in which we live. 

When Ibsen was incubating the ideas for a new 
play, he displayed the most delicate art of finesse 




in directing the conversation of everyone to the 
theme over which he was brooding, without leading 
the speakers to suspect his own vital interest therein. 
From his wife, Ibsen jealously concealed every faint- 
est indication of his dramatic '* whimsies '* as he was 
fond of calling them ; but once the play was entirely 
finished, she it was who read it first. On one occa- 
sion, his wife and son were very curious about the 
new play, concerning which Ibsen had let fall not 
the slightest hint. One day, on leaving the coupe 
at the station, Ibsen dropped a tiny piece of paper, 
which his wife surreptitiously picked up. Upon it 
was written: "The doctor says — " that was all. 
Having confided to Sigurd, in advance, her playful 
intention of teasing Ibsen, she knowingly remarked 
to him: "What sort of doctor is that who takes 
part in your new play? He certainly has many in- 
teresting things to say 1 " For a moment, Ibsen was 
speechless with amazement and rage. Then the 
deluge: What was the meaning of this? Was he 
no longer secure in his own home? Surrounded by 
spies? His desk rifled, his sanctuary defiled? Im- 
agine the silent humiliation with which he heard the 
true explanation I 

At last, the secrets of this abnormally secretive 
genius have been disclosed. And perhaps no more 
interesting, no more unique, no more novel docu- 
ments in the field of literary evolution have ever 
been given to the world. "The doctor says — ^** 


read that enigmatic slip which so piqued Fru Ibsen's 
curiosity. It is an enigma no longer, for in the vol- 
umes of his Nachgelassene Schriften the Doctor has 
indeed spoken. 

At several periods in his career, Ibsen contem- 
plated writing an autobiographical account of the 
outward and inward conditions under which each 
one of his works came into being. Discreet and 
taciturn as he was by nature and by cultivation, Ib- 
sen yet realized the advisability of some form of 
concession to the vastly greedy public who resented 
his extreme reserve and were genuinely interested 
in learning the history of the psychological evolution 
of the great dramatist. Delighting in a sphinx-like 
attitude and deliberately fostering the accumulating 
legends of his mysterious wizardry, Ibsen wished to 
tell only of the circumstances and conditions under 
which he wrote, " observing the utmost discretion, 
and leaving a wide Held for all kinds of surmises.'* 
Unfortunately for the world, Frederik Hegel, Ib- 
sen's publisher, dissuaded him from his unusually 
suggestive project. The experiment with Catiline 
had aroused the public interest; to do the same for 
all his plays seemed to Ibsen eminently worth while. 
This idea of writing some form of autobiography 
seems for many years to have lurked just below the 
surface of Ibsen's mind. The divergence of opinion 
in regard to certain of his works, the repeated as- 
sertions by the critics of the contradictoriness of his 


philosophy and its lack of any sort of logical con- 
tinuity, impressed Ibsen with the necessity of writing 
a book dealing with the gradual development of his 
mind and exhibiting the intimate connection between 
the philosophical and psychological motives of his 
successive plays. " In reality/' he once confessed to 
Lorentz Dietrichson, " my development is thor- 
oughly consecutive. I myself can indicate the vari- 
ous threads in the whole course of my development, 
the unity of my ideas, and their gradual evolution, 
and I am on the point of writing down some notes, 
which shall prove to the world that I am the same 
person to-day that I was on the day I first found my- 
self." His little book, of from i6o to 200 pages, 
and to be entitled From Skien to Norway, has never 
come to light. Certain it is that fox some time prior 
to November, 1881, he had been working upon this 
book, portions of which he actually offered to Olaf 
Skavlan for his magazine Nyt Tidsskrift. A frag- 
ment alone survives. In lieu of that work, of which 
a merest beginning was made, now appear the pre- 
cious volumes (three in the Scandinavian, four in the 
German edition) of his Nachgelassene Schriften, 
There can be little question that these volumes, ex- 
hibiting as they do the intricate workings of Ibsen's 
mind in the actual process of the composition of his 
plays, are of far more universal and permanent inter- 
est than any form of autobiography or self-analysis 
he may have contemplated or even, in part, commit- 


ted to writing. It cannot be said that the few 
examples we have of Ibsen's attempts at critical self- 
analysis are particularly successful, or, indeed — to 
the critical student — wholly convincing. There 
lurks behind them something of the equivocal and 
the disingenuous — for Ibsen had a way of denying, 
when charged with it by the critics, the most patent 
indebtedness to others. 


To the human mind there is ah indescribable fas- 
cination in searching out the secrets of the great 
masters of literature in the composition of their 
masterpieces. Perhaps the poet, as Poe suggests, 
voluntarily encourages the popular opinion that he 
composes in a series of lightning-flashes of ecstatic 
intuition : 

" His eye in a fine frenzy rolling." 

Incidents in support of this fantastic and senti- 
mental conception frequently run the gamut of pub- 
licity; and strange stories of magic feats of compo- 
sition impress alike the sceptical and the credulous. 
Long and elaborate works of art require profound 
reflection, minute analysis and prolonged study. To 
peep into the workshop of the great master's brain 
and assist at the precise balancing of the arguments 
pro and con, to observe how an idea first finds lodg- 
ment in the brain, and to note the gradual symmet- 


rical accretion of the fundamental nuclei for the 
final creation — this is a privilege that has perhaps 
never fully been realized by any observer. Poe, for 
the first time in the world's history, elaborates the 
various mental processes, the successive reflections, 
by which a poet — himself — arrives at the philo- 
sophical and structural bases of a poetic masterpiece 

— The Raven. He draws the curtain and lets the 
people take a peep behind the scenes 

at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought — at 
the true purposes seized only at the last moment — at the 
innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the ma- 
turity of full view — at the fully matured fancies discarded 
in despair as unmanageable — at the cautious selections and 
rejections — at the painful erasures and interpolations — 
in a word, at the wheels and pinions — the tackle for scene- 
shifting — the step-ladders and demon-traps — the cock's 
feathers, which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, con- 
stitute the properties of the literary histrio. 

So lucid, so logical is Poe's analysis of the con* 
siderations which gave him the fundamental mo- 
tives for The Raven, that it has been customary for 
the critics to point out the discrepancy between Poe's 
cold-bloodedly scientific explanation and the roman- 
tic glamour of his magic poetry. The world has 
been inclined to judge Poe's exposition as a brilliant 
scientific analysis of poetic intuition and inspiration 

— after the fact — a mathematical recreation in the 


category of cipher-solving. And yet, there is good 
reason for believing that Poe, with his marvellous 
faculty of analysis, must have experienced some such 
succession of mental states as those he so succinctly 
describes, though doubtless not in the elaborately 
articulated and logical sequence upon which he lays 
so much stress. Even granting the validity of all 
that he says, he still holds something back. We 
have not yet plucked the heart out of his mystery; 
the last veil is yet unpierced, the veil which conceals 
the Inner shrine of his poetic genius — the secrets of 
his haunting music, his daemonic magic, his creative 

Nothing so piques the fancy as the image of the 
great master-craftsman spinning out the threads of 
\/ his creative imagination and weaving the magic pat- 
terns of human life which shall enrapture thousands 
in that palace of light and sound, the theatre. The 
curiosity of the inquisitive has recently been given 
official sanction by a great educational institution 
— in the case of the investigations, by Hodell, of 
that " Yellow Book " which first awoke in Robert 
Browning the idea of the many-sided complex of 
confession, recrimination and exculpation embodied 
in The Ring and the Book. The documents which 
Henrik Ibsen, the greatest dramatic craftsman since 
Moliere, religiously preserved and which are now 
brought to light, at last furnish to the world the 
most elaborate, most veraciously authentic record of 


the evolutionary genesis of the masterpieces of a 
great genius, that the world has ever known. 
These literary remains, be it noted, consist not of Ib- 
sen's possibly supposititious accounts of the brain 
processes which gave rise to his dramaturgic master* 
pieces, but of the actual documental memoranda of 
the successive states of Ibsen's mind in the creation 
and development of his plays. Here we find the 
first original jottings of the thoughts which clustered 
together around some burning point in modern social 
philosophy; the original scenarios which project a 
vivid picture in little of the dramatic conjuncture; 
the genetic states of mind through which Ibsen 
passed in creating and re-creating human ex- 
perience; and finally the penultimate drafts of his 
plays, just prior to that last marvellous polishing, 
filing and chiselling upon the dexterously fashioned 
material of his own creation. These documents, 
which Ibsen called " foreworks," are given to the 
world with his authorization; he looked upon them 
much as a great painter regards the original sketches 
and preparatory designs for his completed pictures. 
And it is noteworthy that, more than once during the 
latter years of his life, Ibsen, pointing to this packet 
of manuscripts, remarked to his wife and son: 
"These are very important things — perhaps the 
most important of all.'' Ferdinand Brunetiere has 
applied the complex machinery of Darwinian evolu- 
tion to literary forms, and shown the successive 


stages by which a literary type reached its present 
state of development. In his " foreworks," Ibsen 
exhibits the successive stages in the evolution of a 
particular specimen of art-form, the modern drama, 
the most difficult, most recalcitrant of the forms of 
creative composition. Here we may observe, as it 
were, the Darwinian process modified by the muta- 
tion theory of De Vries — the gradual evolutionary 
process of infinitely small changes modified by the 
" evolution by explosion " of the human, expe- 
riential factor. A marvellous composite of the dual, 
mutually interacting operations of the analytic 
faculty with the synthetic genius, of the scientific 
method with the poetic vision. 


Upon Ibsen's table, it has been related, there 
stood beside his inkstand a small tray, containing a 
lot of extraordinary toys — some little carved 
wooden Swiss bears, a diminutive black devil, small 
cats, dogs and rabbits made of copper, one of 
which was playing the violin. " I never write a 
single line of any of my dramas unless that tray and 
its occupants are before me on the table," Ibsen is 
said to have remarked. " I could not write with- 
out them. It may seem strange — perhaps it is — 
but I cannot write without them." And widi a 
quiet laugh, he mysteriously added, " Why I use 
them is my own secret." There is one other re- 


mark of Ibsen's which, taken in connection with 
this perhaps fanciful story, serves to give the clue 
to Ibsen's real attitude towards his work and the 
methods he employed. " Everything that I have 
written," he said in a letter to Ludwig Passarge in 
1880, *' has the closest possible connection with what 
I have lived through, even if it has not been my own 
personal experience; in every new poem or play I 
have aimed at my own spiritual emancipation and 
purification — for a man shares the responsibility 
and the guilt of the society to which he belongs. 
Hence I wrote the following dedicatory lines in a 
copy of one of my books : 

" To live — IS to war with fiends 
That infest the brain and the heart; 
To write — is to summon one's self, 
And play the judge's part." 

Ibsen succeeded in packing his plays with the ut- 
most of thought content, in that he deliberately made 
it a rule never to speak polemically save through the 
medium of his dramatic characters. Contrary to 
the popular impression that the successful dramatist 
must write always with " his eye on the stage," Ibsen 
seldom visited the stage save when his presence was 
imperatively required at the rehearsals of one of 
his own plays. And yet he was peculiarly sensitive 
to scenic effects, such as the color of carpet and 
wall-paper, to proper intonation, and even to such 


an apparently insignificant detail as the size of an 
actress's hands. Brandes relates a significant inci- 
dent which took place at a dinner given to Ibsen. 
One of the banqueters, who had escorted the beauti- 
ful actress, Fraulein Constance Brunn, arose at the 
banquet and said, " My partner requests me to pre- 
sent to you, Dr. Ibsen, the thanks of the actresses 
of the Christiania Theatre and to tell you that there 
are no roles which she would rather play, or from 
which she can learn more, than yours." To which 
Ibsen immediately replied, " I must state at the out- 
set that I do not write roles, but represent human 
beings; aod that never in my life during the creation 
of a play have I had before my eyes an actor or 
actress." It was Ibsen's remarkable power of vis- 
ualizing the stage sets which enabled him to dis- 
pense with the actual theatre and the actual player. 
" Since I have a strong imaginative feeling for the 
dramatic," he once wrote, '* I can see before me 
most vividly everything that is really credible, trust- 
worthy, true." Like the great French magician, 
Houdin, Ibsen possessed a faculty for minute ob- 
servation trained to a supreme degree. His genius 
for detail confirms his significant statement to Paul- 
sen : " To dramatize is to see!^ 


Before Ibsen wrote a single line bearing upon a 
play, he gave himself over to isolated contemplation 


and reflection. In long solitary walks, in the sanc- 
tuary of his study, in hours-long motionless con- 
templation of the sea or of the landscape, in minute 
reading of the newspapers down to the smallest ad- 
vertisement, in dumb contemplation of the human 
pageant in the mirror before him as he sat at meals 
in his restaurant — Ibsen slowly and patiently al- 
lowed the ferment of ideas to go on in his brain 
until, as by a chemical reaction, there occurred the 
intellectual precipitation of some generality of moral 
import and sociologic bearing. He never put pen 
to paper, as he once confessed to Alfred Binding- 
Larsen, until he had a clear picture of everything in 
his head — even down to the versification and rough 
details of the dialogue. When he actually began to 
write, he exhibited the marvellous spectacle of pro- 
ceeding as uninterruptedly as if he were writing to 
dictation. The act of dressing was a long and 
laborious process with Ibsen; according to his own 
confessions, he was revolving in his mind, while 
dressing himself, the incidents and scenes of the 
play then in progress. It piques the fancy to won- 
der if the " auction " of The Lady From the Sea, 
Solness' ascent to the tower, or Nora's argument 
with Helmer, occurred to Ibsen while he was pulling 
on his trousers I When he left off work for the day, 
he took pains to keep in mind some fragment of 
dialogue for a starting point on the morrow. If, 
however, this bit of dialogue did not set his thoughts 


flowing readily through his pen, he abandoned writ- 
ing for the time being, and quietly brooded over the 
problem, the characters, or the situation. 

First of all, Ibsen jotted down memoranda (Aus- 
zeichnungen), by which he clarified the intellectual 
problem and set the drama in embryo, as under a 
microscope, before his eyes. These memoranda are 
usually of a philosophical, psychological or sociologi- 
cal nature : pungent observations upon life, criticisms 
of contemporary society, epigrams, thumb-nail 
sketches of character, ;> tie sais quoi du tout. They 
were written upon the most haphazard material — 
odd slips of paper, the backs of envelopes, news- 
paper wrappers, any loose sheets of paper. These 
noted ideas gradually seemed to group themselves, 
as if with subconscious design, around some gen- 
erality of thought — a nuclear accretion around 
some central point. 

After a time, the principal characters of his pro- 
jected play, minutely observed from life but always 
transmuted in his poetic consciousness, began to as- 
sume definite psychological character and highly in- 
dividual attributes. Then Ibsen seems to have 
brought this experiential conception to bear upon the 
epigrammatic idea-forms preserved in haphazard 
memoranda. This intrusion of his dramatic concep- 
tion into the field of his general ideas produced a 
remarkable effect — much like that caused by a mag- 
net brought to bear upon metal filings scattered upon 


a glass plate. At once the general ideas began to 
group themselves into symmetrical designs of defin- 
ite contour. 

These notes are preserved to us in various states 
of nuclear accretion; and examples may best exhibit 
the types of these various states. The following epi- 
grams point directly to the plays bradceted after 

Modem society is no human society; it is solely a society 
for males. — (A Doll's House.) 

*' Free-born men " is a mere flowery phrase. There aren't 
any. Marriage, the relation between man and woman, has 
destroyed the race, has fixed upon every one the marks of 
slavery. — (Ghosts) 

This tomfoolery! We acknowledge the right of the ma- 
jority; and yet those who exercise the ballot constitute a 
small, arbitrarily limited minority. — {An Enemy of the 

Freedom consists in securing for the individual the right 
to free himself — every one according to his needs. — {The 
Lady From the Sea.) 

People say that suicide is immoraL But what about living 
a life of prolonged suicide — out of regard for one's en- 
vironment? — {Hedda Gabler.) 

A new nobility will come into being. It will not be the 
nobility of birth or of wealth, nor yet the nobility of endow- 
ment or of knowledge. The nobility of the future will be 
the nobility of soul and of will. — {Rosmersholm.)^ 

^Ibten used almost these identical words in a speech to the 
workingmen of Trondhjeiii» June 14, XSS5. 


Those among us who have the vote are in the minority. 
Is the minority right? — {An Enemy of the People.) 

At a slightly later stage in the evolution of his 
dramatic conception, Ibsen's ideas, as caught in con- 
secutive memoranda, began to converge towards 
some general fable of human experience. The best 
example of this stage is the collection of the first 
memoranda for Ghosts; and to show the unsys- 
tematic way in which these ideas first found expres- 
sion, it may be pointed out that some are found 
upon the back of an envelope addressed to ^' Ma- 
dame Ibsen, 75 via Capo la Case, Citta (Rome)", 
others upon the back of a newspaper addressed to 
" Herr Dr. Ibsen, Swedish Consulate at Rome," 
date 1881. 

The piece will be like an image of life. Faith under- 
mined. But It does not do to say so. " The Asylum " — 
for the sake of others. They shall be happy — but this also 
18 only an appearance — it is all ghosts — 

One main point. She has been believing and romantic — 
this is not wholly obliterated by the standpoint afterward 
attained — " It is all ghosts." 

It brings a Nemesis on the offspring to marry for external 
reasons, even if they be religious or moral. 

She, the illegitimate child, may be saved by being married 
to — the son — but then — ? 

He was in his youth dissipated ind worn out; then she» 
the religiously awakened, appeared; she saved him; she was 
rich. He had wanted to marry a girl who was thought 


unworthy. He had a son in his marriage ; then he returned 
to the girl: a daughter — 

These women of to-day, ill-treated as daughters, as sisters, 
as wives, not educated according to their gifts, withheld 
from their vocation, deprived of their heritage, embittered 
in mind — these it is who furnish the mothers of the new 
generation. What will be the consequence? 

The fundamental note shall be: the richly flourishing 
spiritual life among us in literature, art, etc. — and then as a 
contrast: all humanity astray on wrong paths. 

The complete human being is no longer a natural pro- 
duct, but a product of art, as com is, and fruit trees, and 
the Creole race, and the higher breeds of horses and dogs, 
the vine, etc. 

The fault lies in the fact that all humanity has miscarried. 
When man demands to live and develop humanly, it is 
megalomania. All humanity, and most of all the Chris- 
tians, suffer from megalomania. 

Among us we place monuments over the dead, for we 
recognize duties toward them; we allow people only fit for 
the hospital (literally lepers) to marry; but their offspring 
— ? the unborn — ? 

A more finished state of memorandum, imme- 
dlately precedent to the actual elaboration of the 
definite scenario, is preserved in reference to the 
play of A Doll's House. It is important to ob- 
serve — - and this with absolute certainty — , that un- 
doubtedly at one stage in the development of the 
material, the drama developed from quite general 
ideas. Ibsen himself confessed to M. G. Conrad 


that he always used the individual as his starting 
point; and he probably never worked his general 
ideas into a play solely for their own sake. Ibsen 
always insisted that he was much more the creative 
artist than the philosopher the public seemed 
bent upon finding in him. And his plays must be 
thought of, not as thesis-plays merely embodying one 
germ-idea, but as artistic re-creations of human ex- 
perience. With these reflections in mind may now 
be cited Ibsen's " Notes for the Tragedy of To- 
day," the preliminary memorandum for A DolVs 
House, bearing the inscription " Rome, io-i9-'78." 

There are two kinds of spiritual laws, two kinds of con- 
science, one in men and a quite different one in women. 
Tliey do not understand each other; but the woman is 
judged in practical life according to the man's law, as if she 
were not a woman, but a man. 

The wife in the play finds herself at last entirely at sea 
as to what is right and what wrong; natural feeling on one 
side and belief in authority on the other leave her in utter 

A woman cannot be herself in the society of to-day, which 
is exclusively a masculine society, with laws written by men, 
and with accusers and judges who judge feminine conduct 
from the masculine standpoint. 

She has committed forgery, and it is her pride; for she 
did it for love of her husband, and to save his life. But 
this husband, full of everyday rectitude, stands on the basis 
of the law, and regards the matter with a masculine eye. 


Soul-Struggles. Oppressed and bewildered by the belief 
in authority, she loses her faith in her own moral right and 
ability to bring up her children. Bitterness. A mother in 
the society of to-day, like certain insects (ought to) go away 
and die when she has done her duty toward the continuance 
of the species. Love of life, of home, of husband and chil- 
dren and kin. Now and then a woman-like shaking-oif of 
cares. Then a sudden return of apprehension and dread. 
She must bear it all alone. The catastrophe approaches, in- 
exorably, inevitably. Despair, struggle and disaster. 

After the general outlines of the play had taken 
on finished shape, as revealed in the above memo- 
randum for A Doll's House, for example, Ibsen next 
proceeded to the elaboration of the scenario. Ibsen 
worked from the scenario forward, in a manner 
highly scientific; this was always his practice, even 
the manuscript of the original version of Ibsen's first 
play, Catiline, of date " 25-2-'49," exhibiting an 
elaborate scenario. Indeed, Ibsen had no re- 
spect for any dramatist who proceeded otherwise. 
Once besought by a young dramatist to read the 
manuscript of his new play, Ibsen curtly asked for 
the scenario. When the young man proudly replied 
that he needed no scenario, having followed his in- 
spiration whithersoever it led him from scene to 
scene, Ibsen grew furious and showed the pseudo- 
dramatist the door, declaring that anyone who dis- 
pensed with a scenario didn't know what a drama 


was and couldn't possibly write one. And yet, after 
all, the scenario as first outlined by Ibsen may best 
be regarded as an experimental foreshadowing, sub- 
ject to radical modification as the writing of the 
play Itself proceeds. It serves as the skeleton frame- 
work for Ibsen's subsequent ideation. Not infre- 
quently a whole act — as in the case of Peer Gynt — 
is written before Ibsen has definitely decided just 
what role some leading character is destined to 
play. The fragments of A DolVs House indicate 
clearly that Ibsen discarded the original plan for 
each act, when he came to the actual writing of it. 
While it is true, then, that the material took shape 
in his mind long before he wrote a word of actual 
(lialogue, yet Ibsen expressly acknowledged that it 
never took such unalterable shape in his mind as to 
permit him to write the last act first and the first 
act last. During the course of the work, the details 
emerged by degrees. 

In this respect, the creation of the drama, as ex- 
emplified by Ibsen, exhibits an excellent contrast to 
the creation of the Short-story, as exemplified by 
Maupassant or Poe. In the Short-story, the lines of 
action Initially converge to the final goal. As Steven- 
son put it, the end is bone of the bone and flesh of 
the flesh of the beginning. The conception must be 
retained throughout. In the drama, the lines of 
interest are continually set anew to converge, now 


here, now there. The totality of effect, the 5/m- 
mung, with Ibsen is created after the " story " is 
mapped out in skeleton dialogue. Ibsen at will 
broke through his original plan in the gradual de- 
velopment of a play. The Lady From the Sea in 
its original outline, with its wealth of characters, its 
unique role for Arnholm and the " Strange Pas- 
senger,** and its situation in a much smaller place 
than in the completed play, exhibits the digressions 
from his original scenario which Ibsen at times 
made in the final form. In many instances there 
is less a digression than an actual fusion or re-casting 
of adjacent parts under the fire of his creative im- 
agination. Both The Pillars of Society and Ros- 
mersholm, for example, are four-act plays, though 
originally planned, and in part written, to have five 
acts.^ Ibsen possessed a remarkable faculty for re- 
jeering the superfluous; he welds together allied vet 
technicall y dissQc jafp ^IfmrnfBi 3nH by the forma- 
tion ofa concrete whflk*^^ the midst 

.S[^^^^iejc^ . 

Farts of the scenario of The Lady From the Sea 
in a most striking way exhibit at once the riotous 
play of Ibsen's fancies, and the initial fantastic form 
of his conception. Originally the scene of the play 
is a small watering place, shut in by steep, high, 
overshadowing cliffs, and the play begins at the 

^ In Rosmersholm, the first two acts are fused into one. 


time of the last voyage of the year. Slowly, the 
ships pass at midnight, noiselessly slipping into the 
bay and then out again. 

The life is clearly gay, buoyant and fine up there in the 
shadow of the mountains and in the monotony of seclusion. 
There thoughts are thrown away: this sort of life is a 
shadow-life. No active power; no struggle for freedom. 
Only longing and wishes. Thus passes away the brief, 
bright summer. And after — into the gloom. Then 
awakes the longing for the great world without. But what 
is to be gained by it? With the situation, with the spiritual 
development arise claims and longings and wishes. He or 
she, who stands upon the heights, desires the secrets of the 
future and share in the life of the future and association 
with the distant world. Limitation everywhere. Hence 
dejection like a mute song over the whole of human existence 
and human action. A bright summer day, with the great 
darkness behind — that is the sum total. 

Is there some gap in man's evolution: Why must we 
belong to the dry land: Why not to the air? Why not 
to the sea? The longing to have wings. The strange 
dreams that one can fly without wondering over it, — what 
is the meaning of all this? 

We shall gain control over the sea. Launch floating 
cities. Tow them northwards or southwards according to 
the season. Leam to control storms and weather. Some- 
thing happy will come of it. And we — we shall not be 
there to see it! 

The seductive power of the sea. The longing for the 
sea. People who are akin to the sea. Bound to the sea. 


Dependent on the sea. Must get back to the sea. One 
species of fish forms the primordial link in the evolutionary 
chain.^ Do rudiments of it still lurk in man's nature? In 
the nature of particular individuals? 

The fantasies of the unresting, churning life of the sea, 
and of that which " is lost forever." The sea exercises upon 
you the power of a mood, which works like a will. The 
sea can h5rpnotize. Above all, Nature can. The great 
mystery is man's dependence upon the "will-less." 

With indefatigable industry, coral-like building 
row upon row, Ibsen slowly worked out the psycho- 
logical features of his dramatic characters, first 
broadly sketched in the scenario. His power 
of imaginative incarnation was that of a magi- 
cian indeed; and he never wrote about his char- 
acters until, as he himself phrased it, he had them 
wholly in his power and knew them down to 
the " last folds of their souls." The preliminary 
drafts, as a rul%, lack dramatic emphasis or finality; 
and there is a certain stage in the incubation of 
a play, as Ibsen confessed to Mr. William Archer, 
when it might as easily turn into an essay as into 
a drama. Ibsen declared that the ability to project 
experience mentally lived through was the secret 

^The species of fish, Amphioxtu lanceolatus, is here doubtless 
referred to, indicating that Ibsen had given some study to the 
scientific treatment of the subject, probably in Darwin's Descent 
of Man. 


of the literature of modern times. He looked 
around him and found models in abundance in actual 
life. He searched out the depths of his own soul 
and found there the confirmation of his hopes and 
dreams of future society. Starting from some cru- 
cial instance of contemporary human experience, 
Ibsen envisages for his creative fancy certain clearly 
marked, highly individual natures. Not the thesis, 
but the individual soul, is the prime subject of his 
ceaseless preoccupation. It was a source of genuine 
pride to him that he possessed a genius for utilizing 
his acquaintances as models for his dramatic figures, 
— a way of " getting hold of people," as he ex- 
pressed it, for his plays. It is by no means im- 
probable that Ibsen personified the little toys which 
stood upon his table. These were, perhaps, the 
dramatis persona; he perhaps endowed each one of 
them with a name, conversed with them in the soli- 
tude of his study, and gave them their positions, 
their entrances and exits, in the play then preparing. 
The people of his fancy with whom he sometimes 
lived in solitude for decades before their final in- 
carnation and inclusion in a play, were often more 
real to him than actual human beings; and he knew 
the characters almost from birth, in ancestral here- 
ditament, in the features of their environment, in 
nascent qualities of soul. When someone remarked 
to Ibsen that Nora, in J Doll's House, had an odd 
name, Ibsen immediately replied: "Oh I her full 


name was Leonora ; but that was shortened to Nora 
when she was quite a little girl. Of course, you 
know she was terribly spoiled by her parents." 
Sometimes he fumbles here and there with his 
figures, developing some trait, heightening some 
characteristic. Again, he broods over a figure for 
years before finally incorporating it in a play. Yet 
again, he finds the secret at once and knows his 
characters from the very bepnning. Perhaps there 
is no better illustration than the description of the 
two leading figures in the first form of Rosmersholm. 

She is an intrigante and she loves him. She wishes to be 
his wife and tenaciously pursues this aim. He suspects it, 
and she freely acknowledges it. Now for him there is no 
longer any happiness in life. Sorrow and bitterness awake 
the daemonic in him. He wishes to die, and she shall die 
with him. She does. 

Here we have the situation outlined in the most 
laconic form. The genius of the ultimate creation 
is displayed in the utilization of the immitigable in- 
fluence of ancestral traits; the invention of the 
means — the driving to death of Mrs. Rosmer by 
Rebekka — through which Rosmer's self-confidence 
is shattered and his happiness destroyed; individ- 
ualistic youth, tainted with blood-guiltiness finally 
broken down under the pressure of ideals of 
life which lose themselves in the mists of ancient 
heredity. In the case of virtually all his prose 


plays, Ibsen was in the habit of tabulating a 
complete cast of characters before proceeding to any 
noteworthy development of the theme. And in 
some striking cases — notably in Rosmersholm, The 
Lady From the Sea, and When We Dead Awaken 
— he has noted the most important spiritual traits 
of the characters, and outlined in marvellous brevity 
of compression the inner meaning of their tragedy. 
This is well illustrated in Rosmersholm, as we have 
observed; but perhaps most strikingly in the pre- 
paratory notes for When We Dead Awaken. 

First renowned through Irene. Then he wishes to live 
and enjoy a second youth with another. Then he changes 
the statue into a group. Irene becomes an auxiliary figure 
in the work, which has made him world-renowned — 

First a single statue, then a group. Thereupon she left 

Our life was not the life of two human beings. 

What, then, was it? 

Only the life of the artist and his model. 

When we dead awaken. 

Yes, what see you there? 

We see, that we have never lived. 

We observe, again and again, Ibsen's stereoscopic 
imagination functioning brilliantly in the shaping and 
evolutional formation of character. With all the 
art of a finished worker in mosaic, Ibsen bit by bit 



discovers hidden traits and qualities, gives form and 
motive to his dramatic figures. The first drafts 
show the characters moving about with less volitional 
activity than they display in the completed play, 
much as a person acting under mesmeric control 
differs from the normally active individual. 

Once Ibsen had grasped the individual in full 
significance, knew her or him as he might know his 
own flesh and blood, the rest came easily, almost 
mechanically. The inscenation, the dramatic en' 
semble, gradually took shape — " composed," to use 
the artist's term — as if of its own volition. It is 
this which makes the dramas of Ibsen so supremely 
great: the characters are not the creatures of the 
situation, as in Scribe and Sardou, but the situation 
— the plot — is the inevitable consequence of the 
characters. This it is, which gives to the plays of 
Ibsen, as Bernard Shaw has acutely put it, the qual- 
ity of " illumination of life " — imparting final veri- 
similitude to the discussions of conduct, unveiling of 
motives, conflicts of characters, laying bare of souls. 
Here comes into full play what Rossetti termed 
" fundamental brain-work*': the working up of ma- 
terial in situation. In characterization and psychol- 
ogy. In the final forms, Ibsen eliminates the su- 
perfluous accessory figures, lops away auxiliary 
motives, heightens the dramatic effect of the situa- 
tions, and rejects all that is coincidental and ad- 
ventitious in the mecbanimi. 



A study of the prose plays brings to light the 
Interesting fact that, in general^ the complete mean- 
ing of a play was never definitely fixed in Ibsen's 
mind until the ultimate draft, in spotless purity and 
perfection of chirography was finished. In certain 
cases the original title which Ibsen employed was 
not the title he finally adopted: Svanhild for The 
Comedy of Love, White Horses for Rostnersholtn, 
and Resurrection Day for When We Dead 
Awaken.^ Ibsen once remarked to M. V. Conrad 
in connection with The Lady From the Sea — and it 
seems to have been true in general — that he did 
not know what the title was going to be, as he had 
one more act still to write. " I find my title at the 
end,'' he said. It is much the same with the names 
of his characters, which change with such rapidity in 
the rough drafts or fragments that one is continually 
brought up wondering at some new character, who 
yet seems so familiar. To cite a random illustration 
in. Rosmersholm, Kroll first appears as Hekman, 
then as Gylling; Ulrik Brendel next takes the name 
of Hekman, borrows from Rosmer the name of 
Rosenhjelm, appears next as Sejerhjelm, and again 
as Hetman ; Rosmer assumes in succession the names 

^Ibten abandoned the title of fThite Horses in favor of Ros» 
fnersholm, probably because, a short time before, he had em- 
ployed a symbolic titU for Th^ fVild Du^k, 


of Boldt-Romer — a union of two old Norwegian 
noble names; Rosenhjelm; from Romer and Rosen- 
hjelm in conjunction comes Rosmer — first with the 
surname Eilert Alfred (reminiscent of Hedda 
Gabler and Little Eyolf, forework) , then with that 
of Johannes. In the first act the adventuress ap- 
pears as Frau Rosmer, next changes to Fraulein 
Radeck, then Badeck; again appears as Frau Agatha 
Rosmer, next as Frau Rebekka, then as Fraulein 
Dankert, and in the third act finally as Fraulein 
Rebekka West. This matter of names may seem 
trivial; but it should be recalled that Ibsen ex- 
pressed the conviction that there was a sort of hid- 
den relation between name and character. And 
who has not remarked the appropriateness of 
Stockmann for the obstinate, stiff-necked doctor in. 
An Enemy of the People, of Rutntnel for the noisy 
boaster in The League of Youth, of Maja for the 
blithe impersonation of the spring month in When 
We Dead A waken f Ibsen left unstudied no detail 
which might contribute to the mood, the form, or 
the carrying power of his plays. 


The original fragments of dialogue, as they first 
occurred to Ibsen, seem not to have been preserved. 
But the fragments that are preserved show these 
bits of dialogue thrown together in the form of acts, 
scenes, or even portions of scenes. The fused por- 


tions of The League of Youth, A DolVs House, 
The Lady From the Sea, Little Eyolf and When 
We Dead Awaken are, almost certainly, first forms 
of this nature; probably this is also true of Rosmers' 
holm. The Master-Builder and John Gabriel Bork- 
man. After he had begun the development of a 
drama, Ibsen usually employed one or the other of 
two methods. One method was to take up each 
act singly, as soon as it was ready, work it over and 
write it out in final form before proceeding to the 
next act. The other method was to go straight 
through with his composition, and then go back and 
revise it. The mornings he was in the habit of de- 
voting to the working-up of his dramatic material, 
the afternoons to the making of a " fair copy " of 
the completed portions. Ibsen certainly employed 
the first method in The League of Youth — the 
traces of which may readily be discerned in the un- 
evenness of the dialogue of the finished play. He 
actually made a fair copy of the first act of The 
Pillars of Society after the original working up of 
the whole play — with the disappointing result that 
he had to discard all his already worked-up material. 
In consequence of this disastrous experience, he ever 
afterwards seems to have employed the plan of com- 
pletely finishing a play before proceeding to the 
final drafting. 




The transcendent genius of Ibsen Is revealed, not 
primarily in the sureness of instinct with which he 
rejected the superfluous, the marvellous taste re- 
vealed in the deletion of the obvious or the ques- 
tionable, the lopping off of the auxiliary characters 
which diffuse rather than concentrate the action. 
Nor can it be said that Ibsen's technique, with all 
its finish and classic restraint, is his most remarkable 
quality as a dramatist. His plays, as Henry James 
phrased it, are "infinitely noted/^ revealing the ulti; 
mate refinement of the critical and creative tempera- 
ments in fortunate conjunction. His observation 
was unerring; and his power of visualizing the scene 
was so perfected that he never felt the necessity to 
enter the theatre or to study the drama in its nat- 
ural environment. These qualities, alone and in 
themselves, were sufficient to make of Ibsen perhaps 
the most deft technician, all things considered, that 
any age has known. Ibsen knew quite enough sci- 
ence for his purpose; and his grasp of the funda- 
mental weakness of modem life gives to his plays 
the character of sociological documents. But the 
quality which gives permanence and enduring va- 
lidity to Ibsen as a dramatist is the quality of psy- 
chological intuition. His power of penetrating Into 
the brains and hearts of men, searching out their 
secrets, and projecting authentically veracious and 



human representations of human character far 
transcends all his other powers. 

Nowhere does Ibsen's art as a dramatist more 
signally reveal itself than in the comparison of the 
preliminary studies for his modern social dramas 
with the completed plays themselves. Here we are 
enabled to espy the great dramatist like a spider in 
his den, spinning out the fine-drawn threads of the 
complicated web of dramatic conjuncture and spir- 
itual crisis. The final forms, as compared with the 
" foreworks," display immense economy of material,^ 
compression of thought, and complication of motive. 
A situation which, in some rought draft, appears 
somewhat commonplace, begins gradually to take on 
lively significance. The atmosphere becomes sur- 
charged with suppressed emotion; the characters 
thrill with tense excitement; and there are lapses 
and pauses full of implication to replace the diffuse 
explication of the original dialogue. The rough 
draft lacks color and atmosphere; the final form is 
a dramatized mood to which the human symphonic 
orchestra is delicately attuned. 

An admirable example is furnished in the case of 
A Doll's House. It is noteworthy that Ibsen is here 
primarily concerned with the woman question; and 
his first inclination was to exhibit this clearly, at 
the same time showing Nora's ignorance of and 
indifference to this question as a burning social prob- 


lem. In the final version, the following interesting 
bit of dialogue in the preliminary draft has been 
deleted — doubtless because it called attention too 
obviously, too extraneously, shall we say, to the 
play's thesis. 

Nora: When an unhappy wife is separated from her 
husband she is not allowed to keep her children? Is that 
really so? 

Mrs. Linden: Yes, I think so. That's to say, if she's 

Nora: Oh, guilty, guilty; what does it mean to be 
guilty? Has a wife no right to love her husband? 

Mrs. Linden: Yes, precisely, her husband — and him 

Nora: Why, of course; who was thinking of ansrthing 
else? But that law is unjust, Kristina. You can see 
dearly that It is the men that have made it. 

Mrs. Linden: Aha I — so you have begun to take up 
the woman question? 

Nora: No, I don't care a bit about it. 

In The League of Youth, and even in The PiU 
lars of Society, with their omnipresent intrigue, their 
occasional intervention of the long arm of coinci- 
dence, their elaborate auxiliary plots, Ibsen has not 
yet succeeded in freeing himself from the influence 
of the artificial methods of Scribe and the French 
school of drama. So, in the preliminary draft for 
A DolPs House, Dr. Rank, under the name of 



Hanky appears as a perfectly needless character, 
mechanically filling in the gaps and having no or- 
ganic relation to the plot He is a weak survival 
of the classical confidant, a futile raisonneur of 
the most artificial kind. At the time he was writ- 
ing J Doll's House, it seems that Ibsen was full of 
the ideas of Darwin, whose works he probably had 
recently read — the Origin of Species (1872) and 
the Descent of Man (1875) having both been trans- 
lated by the Danish author, Jens Peter Jacobsen. 
So Ibsen employs Dr. Hank solely as the mouth- 
piece for the Darwinian ideas of evolution — as ex- 
hibited in the following two passages, both of which 
are deleted in the final version. 

Hank: Hallo! what's this? A new carpet? I con- 
gratulate you! Now take, for example, a handsome carpet 
like this — IS it a luxury? I say it isn't. Such a carpet 
is a paying investment; with it under foot, one has 
higher, subtler thoughts, and finer feelings, than when one 
moves over cold, creaking planks in a comfortless room. 
Especially where there are children in the house. The race 
ennobles itself in a beautiful environment. 

Nora: Oh, how often I have felt the same, but could 
never express itl 

Hank: No, I daresay not It is an observation in spiri- 
tual statistics — a science as yet very little cultivated. 

If Krogstad's home had been, so to speak, on the sunny 
side of life, with all the spiritual windows opening toward 


the light — I daresay he might have been a decent enough 
fellow, like the rest of us. 

Mrs. Linden: You mean that he is not — ? 

Kank: He cannot be. His marriage was not of the 
kind to make it possible. An imhappy marriage, Mrs. 
Linden, is like smallpox: It scars the soul. 

Nora: And what does a happy marriage do? 

Hank: It is like a ''cure" at the baths; it expels all 
peccant humors, and makes all that is good and fine in a 
man grow and flourish. 

It is a mark of Ibsen's skill that he invents Dr. 
Rank's malady — like Krogstad's moral downfall — 
as an illustration of his favorite theme in future 
drama, Responsibility. Thereby Nora's eyes are 
gradually opened to die significance of her responsi- 
bility to her children, and so, through this trans- 
formation Dr. Rank, as family physician and per- 
sonal friend, takes on a unique relation to the de- 
velopment of Nora's conscience. 

Many empty sayings, many superfluous motives in 
the earlier draft are transposed in the final form 
into terms of spiritual development and character 
exposure. In the first draft, after Helmer has read 
Krogstad's letter returning the forged note, he cries, 
" You are saved, Nora, you are saved " ; in the final 
form, with what singular clarity is Helmer's irre- 
deemable selfishness caught in die changed phrase, 
" I am saved, Nora, / am saved I " In the prelim- 
inary draft, there is no trace of the oft-quoted ques- 


tion and answer with which, as by a lightning flash, 
Ibsen reveals the abyss which has suddenly yawned 
between Nora and Helmer: 

Helmer: I would gladly work for you night and day, 
Nora — bear sorrow and want for your sake. No man 
sacrifices his honor, even for one he loves. 

Nora: Millions of wcunen have done so. 

Nora's inordinate fondness for macaroons, so in- 
dicative of her childish nature, is an afterthought; 
and there is but the barest indication of her tend- 
ency to fibbing, so admirably accentuated in the 
final form as an instance of the transmission of 
hereditary characteristics. In the final form, the 
incident of the tarantella is naturally introduced — 
whereas, in the preliminary draft, it appears to be 
lugged in as a mere concession to the popular taste 
for theatricality; and natural causes are finally as- 
signed for Nora*s success in deceiving Helmer about 
her furtive copying. Further instances are unneces- 
sary for demonstrating Ibsen's perfection of crafts- 
manship in his transmutation and re-adaptation of 
the apparently trivial, yet character-revealing inci- 
dents in the play. 

A DoWs House, in the course of its development, 
exhibits admirably the various mental stages through 
which Ibsen passed in the creation of a drama* 


We note how Ibsen makes experiments and ac- 
knowledges failure; goes Into blind alleys and is 
forced to retrace his steps; gradually develops and 
complicates the motives of his characters; and ulti- 
mately exhibits the situation as the Inevitable out- 
come of the psychology, A study of the foreworks 
reveals salient examples on every hand. In The 
Pillars of Society Ibsen exhibits his power of con- 
densation, in dropping the figures of Mads Tdnne- 
sen, Johan's father, Consul Bemick*s blind mother, 
and Dina Dorf 's mother ; and his economy of tech- 
nique is portrayed in having Johan Tonnesen and 
Lona Hessel go to America together and return, to- 
gether, rather than act in the haphazard ways of 
the first draft. From a dull, simple child in the 
forework, Hedwig in The Wild Duck is trans- 
formed, as if by a magician's wand, into a sweet, 
loving, infinitely tender daughter ; and the real poig- 
nancy of her tragedy is unforgettably fixed In the 
imagination by the Introduction of the presaged 
darkness of her coming blindness. By this simple 
expedient, Ibsen vastly deepens the tragedy ; and the 
suspicious connection of Hedwig's threatened blind- 
ness with the failing eyesight of the old Werle 
tightens the cords of suspicion already tense to burst- 
ing in Hjalmar's breast. In the cast of characters. 
In the forework^ to Rosmersholtn, Rebekka is de- 
picted merdy as " somewhat unscrupulous, but in a 
refined way " ; and in the preliminary memorandum. 


it is stated that, in Rebekka's pursuit of Rosmer, 
there is cause for misery and unhappiness. In the 
finished play, these two concepts are brought into 
psychological harmony, by making Rebekka the evil 
genius who, in her passion for Rosmer, does not 
scruple, by diabolic and repeated insinuations, to 
drive the weak-minded, sick-souled Beata into the 
mill race. In the first draft of LUtle Eyolf, Miss 
Varg, the old "were-wolf," is Johanna*s (Rita's) 
aunt; and she possesses little of the symbolic mean- 
ing and hypnotic power of the finished figure. The 
subtlety with which Ibsen has made of the " rat- 
wife " a figure of lasting mystery and horror, an 
impersonation of Death itself, is an irresistible re- 
minder of the weird magic of the author of The 
Marble Faun. The " secrets of the alcove " re- 
vealed in the completed play furnish the real cause 
and motive for the mutual estrangement of Eyolf s 
father and mother; and the memorable phrase, 
" There stood your champagne — and you tasted it 
not," was a brilliant, strong afterthought. The pre- 
liminary draft of Hedda Gabler is conspicuous for 
the absence of that magic phrase, " vine leaves in 
his hair," with which the erotic Hedda always con- 
jures up a Bacchanalian image of the daemonic 
Lovborg. And that potent formula, " Liberty with 
Responsibility," the one clue to the destruction of 
EUida's obsession (though even in the finished play 
it gives a schematic note to the denouement) is 


found nowhere In the forework to The Lady From 
the Sea. In many of the finished plays are mem- 
orable phrases and situations which fix the fanqr 
and knit the action and the characters closer to* 
gether; while from the preliminary drafts are gone 
numerous details which too strongly accentuate the 
thesis or are in themselves, though intrinsically In- 
teresting, dramatically extraneous. 

Ibsen's efforts at the emancipation of modem so- 
ciety Inevitably took the form of life-struggles. It is 
to the enduring profit of the stage that these life- 
struggles always presented themselves to Ibsen as 
dramas. And everjrwhere, In the study of his post- 
humous works, we gain the impression of a mighty 
intensity at work, creating, re-creating. Every- 
where refinement, everywhere complication of mo- 
tive, everywhere increase in psychological depth and 
richness. Superficial incidents of the exterior life are 
sublimated into vitally revealing incidents of the 
inner life. Ibsen now stands forth in a new light as 
a dramatist. Every play appears as a marvellous 
result of artistic compression and selection. Every 
play Is Individual and distinctive; and yet all are 
linked together with Invisible, hidden motives. All 
rest upon the indestructible foundation of permanent, 
enduring art. 


'' Indeed, it is not in the actions but in the words 
that are found the beauty and greatness of tragedies 
that are truly beautiful and great; and this not 
solely in the words that accompany and explain the 
action, for there must perforce be another dialogue 
beside the one which is superficially necessary. 
And, indeed, the only words that count in the play 
are those that at first seemed useless, for it is therein 
that the essence lies. Side by side with the neces* 
sary dialogue will you almost always find an- 
other dialogue that seems superfluous; but examine 
it carefully, and it will be borne home to you that 
this is the only one that the soul can listen to pro^ 
foundly, for here alone is it the soul that is being 

Maurice Maeterlinck : The Tragical in Daily Life; 
from The Treasure of the Humble; p. 1 1 1 . 


The closing half of the nineteenth century exhibits 
no marvellous and immutable fixations in the sphere 
of consciousness. Like all the other epochs, it has 
been a period of flux and reflux, of ebb and flow, of 
mutation and transmutation. Any well-marked 
devolution in the forms of literary art, in the eth- 
ical and philosophical expressions of human con- 
sciousness, has been checked by countercurrents, 
setting contrariwise, towards light, freedom, spir- 
ituality, truth. 

The keen psychologist, intent upon the analy- 
sis of the intricate and devious workings of the 
mind, the intellect, and the human heart, first held 
the world's gaze for a space; his day is not yet done. 
He was succeeded by the Naturalist — bare of arm, 
merciless knife in hand, waiting to dissect with surgi- 
cal precision his human victim. Then came the 
dilettante poco-curantists, the pastel Impressionists, 
reproducing with effects of elusive significance the 
outermost details of life, with their suggestions of 
depths and abysms of thought and feeling. Here 
was change in literary art ideals; but was it a pro- 
gression or a retrogression ? Realism was followed 



by Its bastard progeny, Naturalism, to be followed in 
its turn by Realism's remotest of artistic relations, 
Impressionism. Psychology is replaced by physiol- 
ogy? and subsequently by photography ; there is dev- 
olution here, and the devolution is from the actual 
to the artificial — mind, body, integument. 

Just as, in the physical world, to every action cor- 
responds a reaction, so may we expect the law of 
tidal ebb and flow in the sphere of literary phe- 
nomena. Edmond Rostand arose in France wit h 
romance a? his watchword. Forthwith the French 
world forsook Zolaism and crowned Rostand with 
the laurels of genius. Stephen Phillips in England, 
a shining apparition in a gray world of naturalism, 
only accentuated the swing of the pendulum away 
from the pseudo-social and imperfectly truthful 
drama of Pinero. A generation sated with honeyed 
sentiment and pointless pruriency sits up with re- 
newed vigor to listen to the provocative quips, the 
sovereign satire of Bernard Shaw. Maurice Mae- 
terlinck, at the very crest of the wave of reaction, 
marks the return from the coarse and the artificial 
to the spiritual and the true. He turns from the 
realism of Hauptmann and Sudermann to the 
mysticism of Marcus Aurelius, Ruysbroeck, Novalis, 
and Thomas a Kempis; from the naturalism of Zola 
and D'Annunzio to the supernaturalism of Guy de 
Maupassant and Edgar Allan Poe. 

Individualism is the most resonant note in the 




symphony of modem thought; and individualism 
and reaction in philosophy rang out the dying years 
of the last century. To-day the three names that 
are emblazoned on the oriflamme of Revolt are 
Friedrich Nietzsche, Henrik Ibsen, and Maurice 
Maeterlinck. Their supreme distinction is mo- 
dernity — in art, in vitality of thought, in form of ex- 
pression. Each in his particular sphere, they repre- 
sent what Nietzsche has called the link between 
Man and Superman, between Man as he is and Man 
as they would have him to be. Under their guid- 
ance man may be enabled to " rise above himself to 
himself and cloudlessly to smile." They represent 
the restless, throbbing, unquiet spirit of the age. 
They stand forth as apostles of regeneration — the 
physical, mental and spiritual regeneration of the 
individual. Each one soars over the most novel 
spheres of thought, truth's red torch aflame within 
his brain. It is by that ruddy and clarifying light 
that we shall see our way clearly. Stockmann, 
Monna Vanna, and Zarathustra eloquently attest 
humanity's struggle towards the light. 

Advancing along strikingly distinct paths and 
unique each in his view of life, nevertheless these 
three men — Nietzsche, Ibsen, Maeterlinck — in 
reality are following radiating lines which converge 
towards some far distant point. They follow the 
so-called parallel lines of human endeavor which are 
said to meet at some Utopian infinity. In his millen- 


nial philosophy of the Uebermensch, the late Fried- 
rich Nietzsche — poet, philosopher, and prophet 
— symbolizes the reaction of dynamism from the 
mechanism of Darwin, of aristocratic anarchy 
against the levelism of the age. The divinity of 
Nietzsche's rhapsody is not a subject for Bertillon 
or Lombroso, but the " roaming, blond animal," 
created through the felicitous conjunction of man's 
cunning and Nature's process. The supreme ex- 
altation of the individual, thus spake Zarathustra. 

Henrik Ibsen in his dramas of revolt flung de- 
fiance in the teeth of modern society. That 
trenchant sentence, " The majority is always wrong," 
seems to sum up his message to humanity. He has 
taught the final efficacy and supremacy of will; but 
his doctrine involves the salutary concession that 
" submission is the base of perfection." He stands 
out in grim aloofness the apostle of individual free- 
dom — freedom of choice, freedom of the will, free- 
dom from the false conventions and trammels of so- 
ciety. He has etched his own personality into the 
century's page with the corrosive acid of his mordant 

Maurice Maeterlinck — poet, mystic, transcen- 
dentalist — comes with gentle words of wise and as- 
piring sincerity to impress upon the world the belief 
that the development and disclosure of the human 
soul Is the ultimate aim and goal of existence. 


Marking the spiritual reaction from the blatant 
bestiality of Zolaism, he seeks to realize the infinite, 
to know the unknowable, to express the inexpressible. 
" Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt 1 " is his 
eternal prayer. He is individualistic in the sense 
that he is unique and essentially modem, not ex- 
plainable as a product of the age, but rather as a 
reactionary, hostile to all its materialistic tendencies. 
He heralds the dawn of a spiritual renascence. 

Maeterlinck's first little volume of lyrics, Serres 
Chaudes, expressive of his initial manner, most com- 
pletely identifies him with that band of poets and 
mystics in France known as the Symbolists. There 
is no greater mistake than that of supposing that 
the wide hearing he has gained is attributable to the 
peculiar eccentricities of his style, the novelties in 
literary form he has employed, or the seeming in- 
anities or solemn mystifications of his poetry. At 
first there was about him a trace of the fumisterie, 
that air of solemn shamming, which has helped to 
make the Parisian " Cymbalists " (as Verlaine loved 
to call them) a jest and a mockery. Perhaps he 
first caught the most obvious tricks of his style, 
those very idiosyncrasies his own fine instinct has 
since taught him to discard from the school of Mal- 
larme, Viele-GrifEn and Regnier. Yet the reiterant 


ejaculations, the hyperethereal imaginings of the 
Symbolist manner, are the symptoms of a tentative 
talent, not of an authoritative art. 

Symbolism — the casting of the immaterial 
thought into the material mold of speech, to use the 
word in a broad connotation — marks the corre- 
spondence between the outward visible sign and the 
inward spiritual idea. One must distinguish with 
the greatest care between the Symbolism of the 
French school and that of Ibsen, of Hauptmann, or 
of D'Annunzio. The point of departure for the art 
of the French Symbolists was the effort, by tricks 
of sound and rhythm, of figure and image, by allusion 
and suggestion, to cast a languorous spell over the 
reader, evoking rare and fleeting emotions, producing 
strange and indefinable impressions. As Henri de 
Regnier expresses it : " It is the function of the poet 
to express his own emotions. He realizes that his 
ideas are beautiful. He would convey them to the 
reader as they are. It is then that the power of 
common speech forces him to place known words 
in uncommon sequence or to resurrect an archaism 
that his Idea may be better expressed. He is in no 
sense an analyst of the emotions but an artist, pure 
and simple; his function is not with life and nature, 
but with the imagination." A Symbolist in this 
sense is an artist who finds the words at his com- 
mand Inadequate clearly to express his emotions, 
and Is therefore compelled to employ words as sym- 


bols, deeply suggestive in their meaning. It is ap- 
parent that, with the Symbolists, the simplest words, 
the homeliest figures, may take on untold signifi- 
cance. The poetry of the Symbolists is character- 
ized by peculiar, haunting and elusive beauty and 
destined for the profoundest suggestiveness ; but 
quite too often, it must be confessed, conveying no 
meaning at all to anyone save to the initiated. 

To compare Maeterlinck's early poems with the 
" unrhymed, loose rhythmic prose " of Walt Whit- 
man is to make a perfectly obvious and yet at the 
same time perfectly irrelevant criticism. While 
both are disjointed, formless, enumerative, Maeter- 
linck's every line Is charged with a certain vague 
significance, suggestive of subtile and ever subtler 
possibilities of interest. Take a passage from Ser-^ 
res Chaudes like the following : 

" O hothouse in the midst of the forests! 
And your doors shut forever! 
And all that there is under your dome, 
And under my soul in your likeness! 
The thoughts of a princess an-hungered, 
The weariness of a sailor in the wilderness, 
Brazen music at the windows of incurables." 

Is this pompous mystification or profound poetry? 
Is it sense? As Bernard Shaw would say: " Is it 
right, is it proper, is it decent? " And yet the mor- 
bid mind of modernity sighs through it all: he is 


excluded by very reason of his supersensitive, exotic 
soul from spontaneous and untrammelled com- 
munication with nature. Witness the poignant 
image of the princess, bom in affluence suffering the 
unimagined pangs of hunger. The isolation and 
hopelessness are accentuated by the figure of the 
sailor, longing for the cool waves and bracing salt 
breezes of health, as he wanders widi parched throat 
over the hot sand of the endless desert. What 
more laconically modern symbol than that of a brass 
band passing under the windows of a hospital for 
incurables I Lonely souls are these so laconically 
sketched, obsessed with world-weariness, harassed 
with morbid self-distrust and uncertain of a goal. 

As an illustration of the beauty and finish and 
simplicity of Maeterlinck's art as a poet, at its high- 
est and least symbolical pitch, may be cited Richard 
Hovey's translation of Maeterlinck's unnamed 
poem : 

" And if some day he come back 
What shall he be told ? 
Tell him that I waited, 
Till my heart was cold. 

** And if he ask me yet again, 
Not recognizing me, 
Speak him fair and sisterly, 
His heart breaks, maybe. 


** And if he asks me where you are. 
What shall I reply? 
Give him my golden ring 
And make no reply. 

** And if he should ask me 

Why the hall is left desolate? 
Show him the unlit lamp. 
And point to the open gate. 

''And if he should ask me 
How you fell asleep? 
Tell him that I smiled. 

For fear lest he should weep/' 


M. Maeterlinck owes his world reputation, not to 
fad, to decadence or to symbolism. He is admired 
because he is the sincerest of literary artists, because 
he is ever striving for that Truth which is Beauty. 
His poetry, even when vaguest and most mysterious 
in its strangely symbolic vesture, leaves always upon 
the mind, or rather upon the senses, an ineffaceable 
impression of peculiar and unusual beauty. He can- 
not be said to have created any great, distinctive, or 
strikingly modern form of prose writing. Still his 
prose wears a gentle simplicity, and a pensive appeal 
that charms when the fulminations of die phantasma- 
goric imagination tire the senses and polished periods 


leave the heart unmoved. Such a book as Wisdom 
and Destiny — a book that may truly be called noble 
— marks a distinct epoch in spiritual and cosmic 
evolution. The calm philosophy of Marcus Au- 
relius; the longings after the Infinite, if haply they 
may find It, of the fourteenth century mystic, Ruys- 
broeck the admirable, and the gentle Novalls ; the 
transcendentalism of the Greek spirit In our own 
literature, Emerson ; the " second sphere,** the realm 
of unconscious revelation of the Ibsen of The Lady 
from the Sea and The Master Builder; the brood- 
ing mysticism of the Shakspere of Hamlet — these 
and other inspiring Influences mingle with and color 
Maeterlinck's own conception of the " Inner life.** 
If, In Maeterlinck's interpretation of* the world- 
riddle, there Is one charm more fascinating than an- 
other, it Is his disinterested search for truth. He is 
never didactic, never even definitive In any ultimate 
sense. Quite often he Is actually found contradict- 
ing himself, cortsclously doing so, in the hope of re- 
tracing his steps a little way, aided by the faint glim- 
mer of some new light, until he enter once more the 
straight path to his goal. His books show that. In a 
sense rightly understood, he Is a scientific worker, 
difficult as this Is to reconcile with the vagueness and 
groping Insecurity of his mysticism. From the evi- 
dence of his books, M. Maeterlinck has studied the 
modern theories of auto-suggestion, hypnotism, tel- 
epathy, psychology, and psychic phenomena. No 


reader of The Life of the Bee can doubt that M. 
Maeterlinck is a scientific worker, although this ex- 
quisite social history is the work of an artist and a 
litterateur as well as of a scientist His works — 
poetry, prose, drama — all evidence his close study 
and deep comprehension of modern scientific the- 
ories, especially of a psychic or psychologic char- 
acter, and these works evidence it concretely and 
suggestively, but more often by mere implication. 

It would be a serious mistake to imagine M. 
Maeterlinck the mere mouthpiece of the mystics of 
other years. It is not to be doubted that his mys- 
ticism is based upon a long and loving acquaintance 
with the greatest mystics of the past. To find stand- 
ards of comparison for a phenomenon like the rare 
mind of this new-century mystic, we have to seek, 
not in our own, but in another age. A comparison 
of M. Maeterlinck's philosophy with that of the 
mystics of thp past shows similarity in fundamentals 
to exist between them. But to say that M. Maeter- 
linck follows Ruysbroeck here or Novalis there, is 
not an easy matter: with other mystics M, Mae- 
terlinck has in common only mysticism. The point 
of vantage from which he views the world, the eyes 
with which he sees it, the transmuting mind, are all 
his own. Nor has he studied modern science — 
that of the body, the organism, that of the mind, the 
intelligence, that of the soul, the higher emotions 
— only to be thrown back upon himself in disap- 


pointment, disillusionment and despair. Rather, as 
someone has recently said: "There is evidence 
that his mysticism is not so much a refuge from the 
tyranny of scientific naturalism as the deliberate 
choice of a man who finds in it confirmations of 
countless hopes and suspicions science herself raised 
within him.'' 


Much has been said in praise of the technique of 
Maeterlinck's first little no-plot plays — laudatory 
classification of them as forms of art absolutely new 
under the sun. Maeterlinck was intimately familiar 
with the cognate work of his countryman, Charles 
van Lerberghe; and to Maeterlinck, as to Baude- 
laire, Poe was the master. The art-form of which 
Maeterlinck's no-plot plays are mere dramatic 
transpositions is virtually a creation of the nine- 
teenth century; and, with all their bizarre novelty, 
these little plays appear as little else, technically, 
than Short-stories cast in the dramatic mould. The 
Short-story, as formulated by Professor Brander 
Matthews, must always convey essential unity of im- 
pression — or, as Poe phrased it, a totality of effect. 
Intensive, cumulative force is the most significant 
distinction of this art-form. No one has ever 
succeeded as a writer of Short-stories who had not 
ingenuity, originality, the faculty of compression, 
and, in many instances, the touch of fantasy. As 


an example of Maeterlinck's early manner In the 
drama, consider, for example, that wonderfully con- 
vincing study in hallucination, Maeterlinck's LVif- 
truse — the most striking, awe-compelling, and, 
withal, most original of his no-plot plays. 

The grandfather, blind and helpless, is seated in 
his arm-chair, with his three granddaughters around 
him. The old man's beloved daughter has given 
birth to a child, and lies ill in the inner chamber. 
The atmosphere is pregnant with catastrophe, the 
senses are chilled by the prevision of impending mis- 
fortune. Overbrooded by anticipant foreboding, 
the grandfather subconsciously feels the approach, 
of death. His senses, subtile and acute beyond their 
wont — from his blindness, perhaps — give him un- 
mistakable warning. The gradual approach of some 
unseen being, the fright of the swans, the sudden 
hush of nature, the sound as of the sharpening of 
a scythe, the ghostly creaking of the house door, the 
noise of footsteps on the stair, the fitful gleams and 
sudden extinguishing of the lamp — the significance 
of all these signs and portents is divined by the 
blind old grandfather alone. When finally someone 
is heard to rise in the pitchy blackness of the sit- 
ting-room, the old man shudders with peculiar hor- 
ror. The door of the inner chamber opens, and a 
Sister of Charity mutely announces by a sign that 
his daughter is dead. The Intruder has gained ad- 


This little play, the dramtic production of which 
the late Richard Hovey confessed made an inefface- 
able impression upon his consciousness, bears the 
clearest stamp of unity of impression, of totality of 
effect. The keynote of its mood is cumulative 
dread; while ingenuity and originality are displayed 
In every line of the conception. The art which well- 
nigh makes the impalpable invade the realm of the 
tangible, the supernatural to place one foot over 
the border line of the natural, attains here some- 
thing very like perfection. Fantasy fills every in- 
terstice of the play. In Ulntruse as a psychic con- 
cept, a deep and penetrating insight Into subjective 
states of mind in direct correspondence with move- 
ments in the supernatural world Is revealed. It 
Is not so much that Maeterlinck has created a 
new shiver, to quote Hugo on Baudelaire, as that 
he has evoked a shiver In a novel and startling 

VIntruse was chosen as an illustration of the 
dramatized Short-story because it excels all the 
other no-plot dramas in power and inevitableness. 
Perhaps Les Aveugles, because of the quiescence 
and paralyzed Initiative of the groping blind man, 
and because, too, its conclusion Is not " short, sharp, 
and shocking," comes nearer to a Sketch cast in 
dramatic form than a dramatized Short-story; but 
certainly Les Sept Princesses and Ulnterieur are ex- 
amples of the latter form as clearly as is Ulntruse. 



The artistic Idnship of Maeterlinck with Mau- 
passant and Poe becomes all the more patent when 
we recognize Maeterlinck's no-plot dramas not only 
as occult studies in hallucination but as dramatized 
versions of the perfected art-form of these masters 
of the Short-story. 


It is the fundamental faith of M. Maeterlinck 
that the theatre of to-day needs reorganization and 
reformation in order to conform to the subtler de- 
mands of the higher and more complex life of our 
epoch. The theatre, he affirms, has for its supreme 
mission the revelation of infinity, and of the gran- 
deur as well as the secret beauty of life. He would 
have a theatre in accordance with modem psychic 
demands, giving a revelation of what the Parisian 
mystic Schure calls the abimes and profondeurs of 
the soul. Carlyle also pleaded for a recognition of 
what he called in his own speech the Eternities and 
the Immensities. M. Maeterlinck would bring the 
inner life of the soul closer to us ; he would push the 
actors further off. Thus he regrets that he has 
ever seen Hamlet performed on the stage, since it 
robbed him of his own conception of its mystic sig- 
nificance. The actor, the spectre of an actor, de- 
throned his own image of the real Hamlet. From 
the printed page starts forth the old Hamlet of his 
dreams never again. 




His regret is for the loss of the '* second sphere/' 
that subconscious realm where soul speaks to soul 
without the intermediary of words. He hails the 
coming of the Renascence of Wonder, the mystic 
epoch when men shall penetrate deep into the soil of 
their subliminal selves. The age, which, as Phillips 
Brooks once said, '^ stands off and looks at itself '' 
— that age Maeterlinck heralds and summons. 
Ibsen, too, has dreamed of this dawning day: Julian 
perhaps in the end caught some faint prevision of 
the " third kingdom." 

Silence is the pall that hangs over the earlier 
plays of Maeterlinck; the characters themselves are 
quiescent and immobile. It is only in silence that 
we can really know each other — in the fugitive look, 
the chance meeting, the sudden hand-clasp. Only 
in such moments do we truly come to know anything 
that is worth knowing. Half conscious of his deep- 
rooted faith in the meaning of presentiments, the 
significance of sub-conscious revelations, M. Maeter- 
linck wrote a number of plays surcharged with the 
i impalpable and imponderable weight of pathos and 
groping nescience. " The keynote of these little 
plays," he once wrote, " is dread of the unknown 
that surrounds us. I, or rather some obscure poet- 
ical feeling within me ( for with the sincerest of the 
poets a division must often be made between the 
instinctive feeling of their art and the thoughts of 


their real life) seemed to believe in a species of 
monstrous, invisible, fatal power that gave heed to 
our every action, and was hostile to our smile, to 
our life, to our peace and our love. Its intentions 
could not be divined, but the spirit of the drama as- 
sumed them to be malevolent always. In its es- 
sence, perhaps, this power was just, but only in 
anger; and it exercised justice in a manner so 
crooked, so secret, so sluggish and remote, that its 
punishments — for rewards there were never — 
took the semblance of inexplicable, arbitrary acts of 
fate. We had then more or less the idea of the God 
of the Christians, blent with that of fatality of old, 
lurking in nature's impenetrable twilight, whence it 
eagerly watched, contested, and saddened the pro- 
jects, the feelings, the thoughts, and the happiness 
of man." 

In those early plays the interest hangs upon the 
passage, rather than upon the victim, of fatality; 
our grief is not excited by the tragedy: we shudder 
with wide-eyed horror at the argument of the invis- 
ible, the evidence of things not seen. By the intui- 
tive apprehensions of the soul, its instinctive grop- 
ings, the incomprehensible, disquieting movements in 
nature, the dark forebodings of dumb, shadowy 
events — by these means M. Maeterlinck made us 
aware of the adumbration, the gradual approach, and 
ultimate presence of the mysterious forces of Fate, 


Terror, and DeatK. He objectified and concretized 
for us those moments of life. 

• • • 


In some nimble interchange of thought 
The silence enters and the talkers stare." 

The unnamed presence was always Death — 
Death the intruder. In Ulntruse we waited with 
tense expectancy and strained senses for his coming ; 
in L'Interieur we accompanied him to the scene of 
the eternal tragedy; in Les Aveugles we awaken 
with a start to find Death in our very midst. Ter- 
ror lurks behind a half-closed door, and all the 
poignant mystery of the Universe seems embodied in 
the figures of seven princesses sleeping in a dim 
castle beside the sounding sea. There was no es- 
cape from the obsession of some dire, inexpressibly 
dreadful unknown presence. " This unknown," M. 
Maeterlinck himself has said, " would most fre- 
quently appear in the shape of death. The presence 
of death — • infinite, menacing, forever treacherously 
active — filled every interstice of the poem. The 
problem of existence was answered only by the 
enigma of annihilation. And it was a callous, in- 
exorable death; blind, and groping its mysterious 
way with only chance to guide it; laying its hands 
preferentially on the youngest and least unhappy, 
for that those held themselves less motionless than 
others, and that every too sudden movement in the 


night arrested its attention. And round it were 
only poor, little, trembling, elementary creatures, 
who shivered for an instant and wept, on the brink 
of a gulf; and their words and their tears had im- 
portance only from the fact that each word they 
spoke and each tear they shed fell into this gulf, 
and resounded therein so strangely at times as to 
lead one to think that the gulf must be vast if tear 
or word, as it fell, could send forth so confused 
and muffled a sound.'* 

A time came in M. Maeterlinck's career when he 
recognized the morbidness and unhealthiness of such 
a view of life, and realized that, in the transition, 
he had come out ^* on the other side of good and 
evil." This conception of life may be truth, he 
grants, but it is " one of those profound but sterile 
truths which the poet may salute as he passes on 
his way " ; with it he should not abide. It is per- 
haps this early conception which led him to avow 
that he had written these plays for a theatre of 
marionettes. The characters all silently and unre- 
sistingly do the bidding of some unseen, unknown 
power. Duse said of Maeterlinck: "He gives 
you only figures in a mist — children and spirits." 
Even that " savage little legend " of the misfortunes 
of Maleine, M. Maeterlinck's first play, with all its 
violence, lust, bloodshed, tears and terror, is over- 
brooded by haunting and Inexpressible misery. 

Octave MiH{)eau wrote of this play : " Af . Mau^ 


rice Maeterlinck nous a. donne Vwuvre la plus 
geniale de ce temps, et la plus extraordinaire et la 
plus naive aussi, comparable et — os^ratje diref 
— superieure en beaute a ce qu'il y a de plus beau 
dans Shakspere . . . plus tragique que Macbeth, 
plus extraordinaire en pensee que HamletJ' Plus, 
plus, and again plus/ Bernard Shaw delightedly, 
though unjustly, accused even the precise and careful 
Archer of conferring the " Order of the Swan ** (the 
Swan of Avon) upon Maeterlinck. 

There are many suggestions of Shaksperean char- 
acters in this little play — Hamlet, Ophelia, Juliet, 
Lear, the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, and Lady Mac- 
beth; one rather feels, however, that the author of 
this play is in no sense a *^ Belgian Shakspere,*' but 
instead a rather morbid and immature young man, 
re-interpreting and rehandling the plots and person- 
ages of the master-poet, in the effort to express him- 
self and his faith in terms of the psychic chirography 
of to-day. Maleine is full of the unnamed terrors 
of the Poe of The House of Usher, of ghost-haunted 
regions, of dark, pestilential tarns — the Poe of 
Ulalume and The Haunted Palace. It is not until 
M. Maeterlinck's second, or rather third, period is 
reached that his theories find plausibly human con- 


The late Richard Hovcy once spoke of Maeter- 
linck as '^ the greatest living poet of love, if not the 
greatest poet of love that ever lived." The Mac* 
terlinck of the second manner we recognize as es«, 
sentially the celebrant and interpreter of Love. 

In Pelleas and Melisande we have a, play of con- 
ventional plot — a modern revision of the Da 
Rimini story of Dante—; yet in Maeterlinck's play 
there is no such thing as local color, no trace of Italy, 
for example, no suggestion of the thirteenth century. 
So distant is the scene, so fanciful is the setting — a 
pathetic love-story projected against a gloomy back- 
ground of old, forgotten castles — that we might at 
most think of it as taking place out of space and 
time. It is typical of the plays of this period, peo- 
pled with princes and princesses from No-Man*s 
Land, named after the characters in the Morte 
d^Arthur, striking stained-glass attitudes of pre- 
Raphaelite grace; old men, symbolic of experience, 
wisdom, abstract justice ; blind beggars, intoning the 
song of the world-malady; little wise children, whose 
instinctive divination gives new veracity to the words : 
*' Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings . . .'* 
There are castles in the depths of haunted forests, 
fountains playing softly in the misty moonshine of 
secret gardens, where errant princesses lose their 
golden crowns in magic pools, or their wedding-rings 


in caverns echoing with the , murmur of the 
sea. These are pictures in which may faintly 
be traced the lineaments of humanity; but the 
figures are dim and confused, more abstract 
than vital. In Pelleas and Melisande the accent 
is nowhere placed upon the human characters; 
the stress is thrown upon forces of a supersensible 
dreamland, beyond the frontier of the natural. 
Throughout every scene, in almost every speech, 
there lurks a hidden meaning, so suggestive, so 
elusive, so profound, that the unembodied forces 
of another world seem to adumbrate and control 
the destinies of humanity. Melisande is a child- 
princess, wedded through no will of her own to the 
gaunt, rugged, silent Golaud. As soon as Melisande 
and the young and handsome Pelleas, Golaud's half- 
brother, meet, their mutual insight tells them that 
they are destined for each other. Struggle as they 
will against fate, the coils are too strong for them 
and they succumb to the inevitable call of soul to 
soul. Through the little Yniold, his son by a former 
marriage, Golaud learns of Melisande's infidelity^ 
surprises the lovers in each others arms, strikes 
Pelleas dead, and gives Melisande a mortal wound. 
Throughout the whole play there breathes an at- 
mosphere of the most profound symbolism. Even 
the simplest acts, the merest words of all the char- 
acters, are charged and / freighted with symbolic 
meaning. The beautiful balcony q>isode, suggestive 


as it may be of Romeo and Juliet, Is not only 
cast in exquisite poetic form, but is animate with 
tragic significance. The incident of the flight of 
Melisande's doves, the fluttering of her hair to her 
lover's lips, the loss of the wedding-ring, the cavern 
scene, and the clandestine meetings beyond the walls 
of the castle loom large with hidden import. No- 
where is the novel dramatic method of M. Maeter- 
linck more manifest than in this play. The faintest 
movements of nature cooperate with the thoughts 
and deeds of the characters to suggest the over- 
shadowing of that divinity which shapes our ends. 

As presented by a wholly French cast at Covent 
Garden, London, in the season of 19 10, Debussy's 
opera of Pelleas and Meltsande seemed to me a 
marvel of matchless beauty, of sight and sound. 
The eery strains of this strange music seemed magi- 
cally devised to express the fateful sadness of Mae- 
terlinck's poem. The characters move as in a dream 
through the exquisite scenes of their predestined 
fate — with a hopelessness, a sad sense of imminent, 
misfortune incomparably poetic and tragic. Such 
collaboration is a miracle of art: Maeterlinck him- 
self might have passed into the soul of Debussy and 
inspired him. An even jnore memorable perform- 
ance — if such be possible 1 — ^ was given in the latter 
part of August, 1910, at M. Maeterlinck's own 
home, the ancient Abbey of St. Wandrille. The 
changing scenes of this romantic play, with its antique 


setting, were all found in the Abbey itself and its 
environs. The few rapt spectators took their pre- 
arranged places of vantage and spied, like eaves- 
droppers, upon forlorn little Melisande weeping in 
the forest over the loss of her golden crown; upon 
Golaud riding up to the castle gates on his white 
charger, joyously bearing his young bride in his 
arms; upon Pelleas and Melisande engaging in 
gentle converse, now in the stillness of the lime 
trees, now beside the splashing waters of the foun- 
tain ; upon the prophetic bedside scene when Golaud 
discovers the loss of Melisande's betrothal ring; 
upon the tower scene where Pelleas bathes in the 
beauty of Melisande's hair; upon the final tragic 
scenes of suspicion, surprised love, assassination, 
death. With such artists as M. Rene Maupre, 
M. Jean Durozat, M. Severin-Mars, Mme. Leblanc, 
Mile. Jeanne Even, and Mile. Gilberte Livet- 
tlni, with such setting as the Abbey of Saint Wan- 
drille, Maeterlinck's beautiful drama had a mar- 
vellous rendition that bids fair to remain unsur- 
passed in the history of the production of his plays. 
In all Maeterlinck's love-dramas — Alladine and 
Palomides, Pelleas and Melisande, and Aglavaine 
and Selysette — the mood is ever individualistic, 
symptomatic of the modern thinker. The action, 
simple to the verge of bareness, is a frail frame- 
work through and beyond which we gaze into the 
depths of the human soul. Maeterlinck seems to 



throw faint gleams of light Into the dark pool 
where humanity has lost Its golden crown. The 
march of events is but a passing show, life is a tiny 
oasis In an illimitable desert, a narrow vale between 
two eternities. The characters do not bring things 
to pass ; they are set in a magic maze of tragic desti- 
nies : through them are ever sweeping the impelling 
forces of the universe. Action is but the seeming; 
emotion is eternal reality. Deeds are but the eva- 
nescent expression of the temporary; feelings arc 
the vital repository of immortal truth. 

The realities, the crises of life, are found in si- 
lence and in sadness: ^' sunt lacrima rerum!* We 
see no vital, tremendous, self-captained soul, incar- 
nate with the deep-seated elements of religion and 
Christian morality. Love is ever the victim, wan- 
tonly broken upon the wheel of fate. The su- 
premacy of destiny is solemnly acknowledged, its 
decrees accepted The call of soul to soul cannot 
be disregarded : the forces of Love and Chance con- 
spire in the tragic outcome. 


To M. Maeterlinck, as both his plays and essays 
affirm, tragedy to-day is of necessity of a different 
cast from the tragedy of the past. Speaking of his 
art, Ibsen once significantly said: "We are no 
longer living in the time of Shakspere." However 
he may have carried his theory out, at least Gerhart 


Hauptmann has said : *^ Action upon the stage will, 
I think, give way to the analysis of character and to 
the exhaustive consideration of the motives which 
prompt men to act. Passion does not move at such 
headlong speed as in Shakspere's day, so that we 
present not the actions themselves, but the psycho- 
logical states which cause them." Maeterlinck be- 
lieves that the bold bloodshed and gaudy theatri- 
cism of the conventional drama of the past must be 
replaced in this modem day of analysis /and intro- 
spection by psychic suggestion and the/silent con- 
flicts of the soul. The "character iiy action" of 
Shakspere will be superseded by the /nverted " ac- 
tion in character " of Maeterlinck. Or, to be more 
precise, life reveals its meaning to us only in static 
moments, in the passive intervals of our life. " It 
is no longer a violent, exceptional moment of life 
that passes before our eyes — it is life itself. Thou- 
sands and thousands of laws there are, mightier and 
more venerable than those of passion. ... It 
is only in the twilight that they can be seen and 
heard, in the meditation that comes to us at the 
tranquil moments of life." 

Maeterlinck's ideal mood is static. He protests 
against the false anachronism which so dominates the 
stage that dramatic art dates back as many years 
as the art of sculpture. He cites modem examples 
of the art of painting to prove that Marius triumph- 
ing over the Cymbrians, or the assassination of the 


Duke of Guise, Is no longer the type. The drama 
is no longer dependent upon the exhibition of violent 
convulsions of Hf e : " Does the soul flower only on 
nights of storm? " It is only when man is at rest 
that we have time to observe him. " To me, Othello 
does not appear to live the august daily life of Ham- 
let, who has time to live, inasmuch as he does not act. 
Othello is admirably jealous. But is it not perhaps 
an ancient error to imagine that it is at the moments 
when this passion, or others of equal violence, 
possess us, that we live our true lives ? I have grown 
to believe that an old man, seated in his arm-chair, 
waiting patiently, with his lamp beside him, giving 
unconscious ear to all the eternal laws that reign 
about his house, interpreting, without comprehend- 
ing, the silence of doors and windows and the quiver- 
ing voice of the light, submitting with bent head to 
the presence of his soul and his destiny — an old 
man who is conscious not that all the powers in this 
world, like so many heedful servants, are mingling 
and keeping vigil in his room, who suspects not that 
the very sun itself is supporting in space the little 
table against which he leans, or that every star in 
heaven and every fibre of the soul are directly con- 
cerned in the movement of an eyelid that closes or 
a thought that springs to birth, — I have grown to 
believe that he, motionless as he is, does yet live in 
reality a deeper, more human, and more universal 
life than the lover who strangles his mistress, the 


captain who conquers In battle, or ' the husband who 
avenges his honorJ 

J n 


Preoccupied ceaselessly with the " disquiet of uni- 
versal mystery," groping hesitatingly in that twilight 
zone which vaguely delimitates the real and inti- 
mates the over-real, Maeterlinck in his earlier fa- 
talistic moods seemed content to look upon the legend 
of the human chin^ra with the " grave, wide-eyed 
gaze of an inspired child." He succeeded in diffus- 
ing through this twilight zone that strange " lunar 
brilliance " which Heine divined at times in Shaks- 
pere. In his symbols there is some audible, al- 
most sensable revelation of the Infinite; in Carlyle's 
phrase, " the Infinite is made to blend itself with 
the Finite, to stand visible, and, as it were, at- 
tainable there." First, I think, in Aglavaine and 
Selysette is there real descent to earth, a real adum- 
bration of a primarily human problem. This play, 
along with Sceur Beatrice and Ardiane et Barbe Bleu, 
marks the actual transition stage in Maeterlinck's 
art from the drama of fatality, of pity and terror, 
to the drama of human interests, of real emotions, 
and of direct volitional activity. Aglavaine and 
Selysette is an illuminating essay, though seen in a 
glass darkly, upon ideal possibilities in human rela- 
tionship in a future state of elevated moral con- 
sciousness. The noble, soulful Aglavaine realizes 


that she loves, and is beloved by, Meleandre, al- 
ready wedded to the childlike Sclysette. Through 
sympathetic communion With the lofty soul of Agla- 
vaine, the little Selysette awakes to a realization of 
the shallowness of her fruitless, butterfly existence. 
With her mate, there has been no high pilgrimage 
to those uplands of peace where the soul truly flow- 
ers. The unfolding, petal by petal, of this flower- 
like, primrose soul is intimated with an art as ex- 
quisite as it is finished. And yet the situation, 
humanly speaking, is perilous, untenable. '* I 
love you," says Aglavaine ; " I love Meleandre, 
Meleandre loves me, he loves you, too ; you love us 
both, and yet we cannot live happily, because the 
hour has not yet come when human beings may be 
thus united." (Does the world offer no instances 
to the contrary?) With the resolution born of a 
hopeless certitude, Aglavaine attains the power of 
sincere resignation and offers to go away forever. 
Humanly consenting in the first glad rush of relief, 
Selysette in the event attains the diviner resignation, 
resolutely going out into the night of despair and 
death that two souls, immemorially mated, may at- 
tain the foreordained consummation of their destiny. 
Librettos for music — Singspiele, as the Germans 
say — Steur Beatrice and Ardiane et Barbe Bleu 
serve more clearly to mark the transition in Mae- 
terlinck's attitude towards problems which concern 
the interpreter of life. Saur Beatrice is the Every- 


woman of human love — instinctive, sacrificial. She 
flees the convent with her lover, and though exter- 
nally besmirched with earthly contacts, she returns 
in the end to sanctuary to find that the Virgin has 
kept her place inviolate — a subtle vindication of 
the sanctity of human impulse. When the Abbess 
intimates that love divine is a terrible burden, 
Beatrice replies, " Mother, no. It is the love of 
man that is the burden, the weary burden. • . . 
I have said often, when I was not happy, God would 
not punish if He once knew all. ... In other days 
all folks ignored distress, in other days they cursed 
all those that sinned; but now all pardon, and all 
seem to know. . . ." 

The self-reliant Ardiane, of Maeterlinck*s version 
of the old Blue Beard legend of a thousand trans- 
formations, is the direct progenitress of the pas- 
sionate Joyzelle and the heroic Giovanna. Her in- 
tuition is sure and supreme; for though she is free 
to open all doors but one, it is the forbidden door 
alone that she seeks. " Open the others if you will ; 
but all that is permitted us will tell us naught." 
Truth lies not on the beaten path of convention, but 
in the secret recesses of the soul. Guilty for a mo- 
ment of human yielding to the sparkling allurements 
of the senses, Ardiane recoils in time, and releases 
her imprisoned sisters in captivity — only to find 
that they are wedded to their chains. Without too 
violent referwice to the concrete — the vaticinations 


of a Mary WoUstonecraft or the violences of a 
Christabel Pankhurst — it is obvious that Maeter- | 
linck is envisaging here the present and coming re- ( 
volt of woman against her subjection; and enunciat- \ 
ing quite definitely, if delicately, satiric conunentaries 
upon the " womanly woman.'* 


The influence of much modem philosophy, of much 
modern drama, is unmistakable. There is a secret 
and abstract justice, a sphere of ethical equity, out** 
side of and above the external domain of law, con< 
vention and authority. The arbiter of human con- 
duct must be, not the merciless dictum of the world, 
but the mystical sense of justice deep-rooted in the 
consciousness of the race. To the question: Which 
of two forces which work within us, the one natural, 
the other ethical, is the more natural and necessary? 
Maeterlinck would doubtless answer, according to 
Lorenzo Ratto, " The great ideas of humanity be- 
long to the species, not to the individual. Justice is 
perhaps an instinct whose tendency is the defence and 
conservation of humanity. Ideal justice is innate 
and is transformed by reason and will into moral 
force. Justice is within ourselves; outside of us is 
infinite injustice, which may rather be called justice in- 
complete, because exposed to all the errors and modi- 
fications which result from clashing interests. While 
we are benefited by following the dictates of this 


inner voice, its influence cannot extend to our sur- 
roundings and modify the laws of nature. Its sole 
result is an internal equilibrium, the balance of the 
conscience in which we may enjoy material well- 

But how shall this human, instinctive justice, per- 
petually functioning within ourselves, find expres- 
sion in a drama of nescience and fatalistic quietude? 
How shall such a drama exist in the world of spec- 
tators whose composite and aggregate passion is 
for character in visible action? After his long 
period of probative experimentalism followed by con- 
templation — the reverse operation to that of the 
pure. theorist — Maeterlinck discovered and frankly 
acknowledged the obligation of the dramatist writ- 
ing for the actual theatre of to-day. " To penetrate 
deeply into human consciousness," he says in The 
Double Garden, " is the privilege, even the duty of 
the thinker, the moralist, the historian, novelist, and, 
to a degree, of the lyric poet ; but not of the drama- 
tist. Whatever the temptation, he dare not sink into 
inactivity, become mere philosopher or observer. 
Do what one will, discover what marvels one may, 
the sovereign law of the stage, its essential demand, 
will always be action. With the rise of the curtain, 
the high intellectual desire within us undergoes trans- 
formation; and in place of the thinker, psychologist, 
mystic or moralist, there stands the mere instinctive 
spectator, the man electrified negatively by the 


crowd, the man whose one desire is to see some- 
thing happen." Nowhere have I seen a more ad- 
mirable and succinct formulation of the essential 
criterion of true drama — unless it be Brunetiere's 
classical positing of the struggle of human wills; and 
this, in the light of contemporary specimens of 
drama, is subject to very wide modification and re- 
statement. In Maeterlinck's case, it is peculiarly 
noteworthy that his practice accompanies the actual 
formulation of his hardly won discoveries. 

Early in his career, Maeterlinck confessed that 
when he went to a theatre, he felt as though he were 
spending a few hours with his ancestors, who con- 
ceived life as something primitive, arid and brutal. 
In the dramas of the school of Dumas fits, he found 
the most elementary of moral conflicts brought on 
the stage — the husband avenging his honor, the pro- 
mulgation of the rights of the illegitimate child, as- 
pects of divorce, variations on the " unwritten law," 
and so on. It was not until he pondered the dramas 
of Ibsen and his followers that he discovered that 
" the further we penetrate into the consciousness of 
man, the less struggle do we discover." A mystic 
who has lost faith in the healing efficacies of re- 
vealed religion, Maeterlinck has undergone the in- 
evitable attendant disillusion. And his dispassionate 
contemplation of the eternal enigma has fixed in his 
consciousness the irrevocable conviction that the 
great duties, faiths, obligations and responsibilities 


of the future will gently disengage themselves from 
the violent, bitter and all too human passions of to- 
day. ''A consciousness that Is truly enlightened 
will possess passions and desires infinitely less ex- 
acting, infinitely more peaceful and patient, more 
salutary, abstract and general, than are those that 
reside in the ordinary consciousness." In a world 
of human beings, emanating justice from within and 
living an interior life of rare calm and benignity, 
only the most pressing and most universal duties 
will possess the power to disturb the internal equi- 
librium of human consciousness. 


Monna Vanna is the summit of Maeterlinck's art 
as a dramatist; and Joyzelle, though following it in 
point of time, in reality is a link between Monna 
Vanna and his earlier works. Indeed, it is a sort of 
pendant to Monna Vanna and should be consid- 
ered prior to and in connection with it. And I 
think that the theoretical considerations outlined 
above may serve to act as commentary upon both 
plays. Joyzelle is more imaginative, poetic and 
symbolic than Monna Vanna, as Maeterlinck himself 
said, but it is far less coherent and significant, rely- 
ing upon such obvious symbolism. " It represents," 
said Maeterlinck, " the triumph of will and love 
over Destiny, or fatality as against the converse 
lesson of Monna VannaJ* In order to illustrate the 


possibility of such a result of the struggle between 
environment and personality, it was necessary, Mae- 
terlinck further explained, to place the chief per- 
sonages of the drama in very peculiar circumstances, 
and to invoke the aid of myth and symbolism. The 
grounds for such a necessity are dear only in the 
case of an artist of Maeterlinck's peculiar quality; and 
there can be no doubt that the circumstances in which 
the characters are placed are decidedly " peculiar." 
Merlin, the old seer, knowing the future through 
the intermediary of his familiar spirit, Arielle — 
symbolic incarnation of his faculty of divination — 
and realizing all that the future holds for his be- 
loved son, determines to play the role of destiny in 
order to ensure his happiness. Joyzelle loves Lan- 
ceor. Merlin's son, with a perfectly human, instinc- 
tive passion ; and acts under all the cruel and harrow- 
ing tests to which she is submitted by Merlin, with 
forthright decisiveness and simplicity. Maeterlinck 
fails to convince us that there is any real conflict — 
merely the successful, but foreseen, surmounting of 
all the tests imposed; and at the end as at the be- 
ginning, Joyzelle is identical with herself — fresh, 
spontaneous, loyal unto death. To win her Lan- 
ceor, she is nerved even to crime; but fate — or a 
mechanical symbol for fate! — intervenes. Mae- 
terlinck loosely evades the moral implication of this 
incident; for when Joyzelle naively inquires, "Is it 
then ordained that love should strike and kill all 


that attempts to bar the road? '* the answer Is, '^ I 
do not know." It is interesting to observe that Joy- 
zelle is submitted to the same test as Vanna, with 
this fundamental difference: upon the consent of 
Vanna to a sacrifice of her persoa is conditioned the 
material happiness and the lives of thousands; Joy- 
zelle fights for the inner sanctity of individual and 
personal love. Lanceor is a mere lay figure — 
the dupe of a Maeterlinckian Midsummer Night's 
Dream ; and in the strange story of this Ferdinand 
and Miranda, Joyzelle is struggling for a consum- 
mation of very dubious value. The play is note- 
worthy In one respect, viewed in the light It throws 
upon the evolution of Maeterlinck's art as a dra- 
matist. Hitherto Maeterlinck has always vouch- 
safed to fate the victory over humanity. In Joy^ 
\ zelle, Maeterlinck has given the victory to love — 
a love of authentic finality and enduring strength. 


Original and distinctive as Maeterlinck succeeds 
In remaining through all his tentatives and experi- 
ments, he is perhaps the most impressionable of 
modern artists. The Influences that work in him 
are lost in the mists of antiquity and find solid 
ground In the most modern of the moderns. If at 
times he seems the incarnation of the Stoicism for 
which we have to go to Marcus Aurelius to find a 
parallel, at others he penetrates to the heart of 



modern problems, and challenges comparison, as 
moralist, even with Ibsen and Nietzsche. 

Max Nordau contemptuously, though not inaptly, 
characterized La Princesse Maleine as a sort of 
cento out of Shakspere, a ** Shaksperean anthology 
for children and Patagonians/' Indeed, La Prin" 
cesse Maleine, and Joyzelle with its Tempest setting, 
testify to Maeterlinck's preoccupation with the 
scenic accessories and romantic violences of the 
Shaksperean drama. Monna Fanna, as Professor 
W. L. Phelps pointed out, owes its setting and one 
of its structural features to Browhing's Luria; and 
Pelleas and Melisande finds its roots in the Dantean 
story of the two who go forever on the accursed air. 
And yet, in every case, Maeterlinck's adaptation, 
modification, or amplification of the facts, material 
or spiritual, and his re-presentation of the characters 
he has chosen to reincarnate, reveal individuality, a 
distinctive habit of mind, and originality of depic- 
tion. These plays, in a sense, serve as Maeter- 
linck's personal impressions of his adventures among 
the masterpieces of Shakspere, Browning and Dante. 

The most noteworthy influence visibly operant 
upon the art and thought and life of Maeterlinck 
came however, not from literature, but from life — 
in the person of that woman who was eventually to 
share all his joys and sorrows. The Treasure of the 
Humble was dedicated to Mile. Georgette Leblanc; 
and it is significant that in the year of its publication, 


1896, Maeterlinck leaves Flanders forever and 
enters the great cosmopolitan world of Paris. Be- 
hind him now lie the ancient spires, the dark canals, 
the sluggish waters, the floating swans, the gloomy 
atmosphere and phlegmatic spirit of his ancestral 
city. Behind him lie the strange and morbid fancies 
of his youthful days — the arabesque landscapes, 
hidden grottoes, haunted castles, noxious moonlit 
gardens; the pitiable, bloodless spectres, with their 
frantic gestures of despair and stanunering inco- 
herent protests against immitigable doom. The 
gray Stoic dons the bright colors of optimism; the 
poet of the ethereal becomes the celebrant of the 
humanly real. 

Again in 1898, Maeterlindc dedicates a book, 
fFisdom and Destiny, to Mile. Leblanc — in words 
eloquent of her influence: '* I dedicate to you this 
book, which is, in effect, your work. There is a col- 
laboration more lofty and more real than that of 
the pen ; it is that of thought and example. I have 
not been obliged to imagine laboriously the resolu- 
tions and the actions of a wise ideal, or to extract 
from my heart the moral of a beautiful reverie 
necessarily a trifle vague. It has sufGced to listen to 
your words. It has sufficed that my eyes have fol- 
lowed you attentively in life; they followed thus the 
movements, the gestures, the habits of wisdom her« 

Lovingly celebrated in his Portrait of a Lady, 


with its motto from La Bruyere : '* He said that 
the intelligence of this fair lady was like a diamond 
in a handsome setting'' — Mile. Leblanc finds real 
incarnation in Monna Vanna, which she is destined 
to create with moving and magic force. Monna 
Vanna is Maeterlinck's great human challenge of \ 
mystic morality to the modern world — no fourth- 
dimensional drama of the spirit, " pinnacled dim in 
the intense inane," but a drama of flesh and blood, 
of heart as well as of soul. It bears all the hall- 
marks of the drama of to-day, even to its ideal 
spectator, its undulation of emotional process, its 
classic conflict of wills. It bears the pure Maeter- 
linckian stamp as well — but this time the glorious 
struggle of the ideal morality against the purely 
human passions of daily life. Monna Vanna is the 
apotheosis of womanhood — the fine flower of the 
virginal type become volitional, latent in Aglavaine, 
just stretching shining pinions in Ardiane. With 
such high-minded disinterestedness is it conceived 
that our heart, in turn, goes out to the passionately 
loving, but outraged husband, Guido; to the bar- 
baric, but essentially noble Prinzivalle; to the old 
Marco, sacrificing the love of his son to the ideal 
demands of the loftier morality; to Vanna, in her 
evolution from blushing and tender femininity to 
decisive and noble womanhood. The unresolved 
cadence of its clamant finale is our concession to the 
mystic Maeterlinck. "With conscious strength," 


as Anselma Heine says, '' Monna Vanna carries her 
fault upon her shoulders like a coronation mantle, 
and with uplifted gaze strides forth into happiness/' 


The Blue Bird, Maeterlinck's " Fairy Play in Five 
Acts," is, on reflection, less a surprise than a con- 
firmation. Here at last is the '' anthology for chil- 
dren " — neither from Shakspere, nor for Pata- 
gonians — but pure Maeterlinck, an allegorical 
fantasy of that search for ideal happiness with which 
he is ever concerned. From the essay on Luck in 
The Buried Temple there is a significant passage 
which adumbrates this new fancy. " Let us unwear- 
/ iedly follow each path that leads from our conscious- 
ness to our unconsciousness. We shall thus succeed 
in hewing some kind of track through the great and 
as yet impassable roads that lead from the seen to 
the unseen, from man to God, from the individual 
to the universe. At the end of these roads lies 
hidden the general secret of life." The Blue Bird 
belongs to that modern literature of childhood's 
dreamland, which finds such tragic exemplification in 
Hauptmann's The Assumption of Hannele, such joy- 
ous celebration in Barrie's Peter Pan. Maeterlinck 
seems to be harking back to the ideas of his poet- 
friend, Charles Van Lerberghe; and in this new cre- 
ation gives us a real play for marionettes that would 


have delighted the author of A Child's Garden of 

It is a future possibility of Man to discover the 
soul of inanimate things, to conquer thus all the 
forces which are now veiled from him and arrayed 
against him, and to live in a pantheistic universe of 
life, freedom and light. And it is Man's destiny 
to pursue that *' great secret of things and of happi- 
ness," which is the Blue Bird of the Maeterlinckian 
fantasy. Some such general idea as this lies back 
of the simple symbolism and allegory of this fairy 

In dreamland, Tyltyl and Myltyl, the children of 
two old peasants, are visited by the fairy Berylune 
who bids them start in search of the Blue Bird. 
This Blue Bird she must have for her little girl who 
is very ill. " We don't quite know what's the matter 
with her; she wants to be happy . . .'* — thus the 
fairy Berylune, who to the children seems to bear a 
strange resemblance to their neighbor, Madame Ber- 
lingot. The green hat with a diamond ornament, 
which Berylune gives to Tyltyl, enables him, by turn- 
ing it a certain way, to see the inside of things, and 
to summon the souls of the Inanimate. No sooner 
has Tyltyl turned the diamond than a wonderful 
change comes over everything, and forth come 
trooping the Hours, dancing merrily to the sound 
of delicious music, the souls of the Quartern-loaves, 


of Man's one absolutely faithful servant, the Dog; 
the Cat, Water, " like a young girl, streaming, dis- 
hevelled and tearful," Milk, " a tall, white bashful 
figure who seems to be afraid of everything," sanc- 
timonious Sugar, and a luminous creature of incom- 
parable beauty, called Light. And now forthwith, 
with these strange and sprightly attendants, the 
children start on their quest for the Blue Bird. 

At the fairy's palace, Berylune explains to the chil- 
dren that if they can find the Blue Bird, they ^11 
know all, see all, at last dominate the universe — 
a Biblical reminder of that fruit of the tree of 
knowledge, eating which man shall know all things, 
both good and evil. They journey first to the Land 
of Memory, and there meet their grandparents and 
their long-lost brothers and sisters, who need only 
to be remembered to live again. Here Tyltyl cap- 
tures a bird which seems " blue as a blue glass mar- 
ble " ; but alas ! as soon as they leave the Land of 
Memory — for when we dwell on the past in loving 
memory we idealize all things there — the bird is no 
longer blue. 

And so their pilgrimage continues to the palace 
of Night, who lives in terror for fear Man will cap- 
ture all his mysteries, and vanquish all his terrors. 
Here Tyltyl takes a peep into the cavern of the 
Ghosts who, as Night explains, " have felt bored in 
there ever since Man ceased to take them seriously ** ; 
at the Sicknesses, who are not happy since '^ Man 


has been waging such a determined war uppn them 

— especially since the discovery of the microbes. 
. . . The Doctors are so unkind to them." Though 
not yet winter, one of the smallest almost escapes, 
sneezing, coughing, and blowing Its nose: It's Cold- 
in-the-Head. Nowhere can they find the Blue Bird 

— not among the Wars, the Shades and Terrors, the 
Mysteries, nor in the private locker where Night 
keeps the '* unemployed Stars, my personal Perfumes, 
a few Glimmers that belong to me, such as Will-o*- 
the-Wisps, Glow-worms and Fireflies, also the Dew, 
the Song of the Nightingales, and so on . . ." 
Finally, though warned that it is not permitted to 
open one great door, Tyltyl musters up courage, to 
discover there 

"the most unexpected of gardens, unreal, infinite, and 
ine£Fable, a dream-garden bathed in nocturnal light, where, 
among stars and planets, illumining all that they touch, 
flying ceaselessly from jewel to jewel and from moonbeam 
to moonbeam, fairylike blue birds hover perpetually and 
harmoniously down to the confines of the horizon, birds in- 
numerable to the point of appearing to be the breath, the 
azured atmosphere, the very substance of the wonderful 

Too easily dazzled by this glitter, they seize eag- 
erly only those birds that are within reach — only 
to discover when they are held to the light that the 
birds are dead 


In the Forest, betrayed by the treacherous Cat, 
they are beset by all the trees and animals, who 
know that if the Blue Bird is captured, their last 
breath of freedom and independence of man ex- 
pires. Though guarded zealously by the faithful 
Dog, the children are hard put to it to defend them- 
selves, and are rescued in the end only by the inter- 
vention of Light. Next day they seek the Blue 
Bird in the Graveyard — but they are not accom- 
panied by Light, who might terrify the dead, nor 
by Fire, " who would want to burn the dead, as of 
old ; and that is no longer done • . ." Tyltyl turns 
the jewel, and 

"Then, from all the gaping tombs, there rises gradually 
an efflorescence at first frail and timid like steam; then 
white and virginal and more and more tufty, more and more 
tall and plentiful and marvellous. Little by little, irre^ 
sistlbly, invading all things, it transforms the graveyard into 
a sort of fairy-like and nuptial garden, over which rise the 
first rays of the dawn . . ." 

Stunned and dazzled, Myltyl asks, looking in the 
grass, " Where are the dead? " And Tyltyl, look- 
ing, answers: "There are no dead . . ." 

Once again they resume their pilgrimage, this 
time to the Kingdom of the Future peopled with the 
Blue Children, who await the hour of their birth. 
One prophesies that, once on earth, he will have 
to " invent the thing that gives happiness " ; another 


will invent a '* machine that flies in the air like a bird 
without wings " (whether a Bleriot monoplane or a 
Wright biplane is left in doubt) ; another will 
** bring pure joy to the globe by means of ideas which 
people have not yet had." At last white-bearded 
Time, with scythe and hour-glass, appears upon the 
threshold; and one catches a glimpse of the " white 
and gold sails of a galley moored to a sort of quay, 
formed by the rosy mists of the Dawn." As the 
galley floats away to Earth, bearing the Blue Chil- 
dren, Tyltyl and Myltyl hear an extremely distant 
song of gladness and expectation. Tyltyl inquires, 
"What is that? ... It sounds like other voices 
..." To which Light responds, " Yes, it is the 
song of the mothers coming out to meet them." 

The children at last return to earth, for Light 
assures them that she has caught the Blue Bird and 
has it hidden under her cloak. They awake in the 
cottage of their parents, now illumined, as if by 
magic, with strange, fresh beauty; and they talk so 
strangely of their long dream-pilgrimage, more real 
than reality, that their mother is alarmed for fear 
they have discovered the hiding place of her hus- 
band's brandy-bottle. When Madame Berlingot 
enters, the children to her surprise call her Berylune, 
and express sorrow that they have been unable to 
find the Blue Bird. But Tyltyl offers his own little 
turtle-dove for her sick child. She rapturously 
seizes it and runs to present it to the invalid. In a 


moment she returns, '^ holding by the hand a little 
girl of a fair and wonderful beauty, who carries 
Tyltyl's dove pressed in her arms." The miracle is 
wrought; here at last is the Blue Bird. But as 
Tyltyl, wishing to show her how to feed the dove, 
momentarily takes it from her, it escapes and flies 

" Never mind, . . . don't cry ... I will catch 
him again," says Tyltyl reassuringly. And with all 
the grace of a Peter Pan appealing to the public 
for their belief in fairies, Tyltyl steps to the front 
of the stage and addresses the audience : 

" If any of you should find him, would you be so 
kind as to give him back to us? • . . We need him 
for our happiness, later on . . ." 

Maeterlinck's marvellous imaginative faculty for 
evocation of images of rare, strange beauty plays 
through the scenic directions. That greatest of liv- 
ing stage-managers, the Russian Stanislavsky, has 
already realized Maeterlinck's intention in a pro- 
duction notable for the magic beauty of its setting. 
The Blue Bird was played in Moscow for consid- 
erably more than a year, and has been produced all 
over Russia literally by scores, of companies. It 
was most fitting that The Blue Bird should have 
been successfully produced in London ; for M. Mae- 
terlinck has gracefully acknowledged Mr. Barrie as 
** the father of Peter Pan, and the grandfather of 
The Blue Bird/^ Fantastically, if somewhat con- 


ventionally Imaginative, were the designs for The 
Palace of the Night with its stately quadrangle and 
mystic, columned temple; the Kingdom of the Future 
with its succession of oval arches painted in cerulean 
blue and the changing colors of ships and figures at 
the embarcation of the unborn children for their 
voyage to this world; the magic Garden filled with 
radiant blue birds, ceaselessly fluttering hither and 
thither, through the instrumentality of the wonder- 
working biograph; and the austere dignity of the 
Forest, with its gnarled, primeval, dense-packed 
trees. Children sat speechless and spellbound in un- 
sophisticated contemplation of this youthful, modern 
quest of a new Holy Grail, while men and women 
read therein the meanings vouchsafed them by their 
own life-quests. The pretty fantasy with its individ- 
ualized figures, whether of abstraction or beast or 
inanimate object, its eager, earnest children, its easy 
dialogue, its simple allegory and symbolism, its light 
hints of a secondary intention, its poetic imaginative- 
ness and above all its delicate and playful humor, 
reveal a Maeterlinck who at once endears himself 
to all who love children and to all who have ever 
engaged in a perhaps not wholly fruitless quest for 
that elusive and evanescent thing we call Happiness. 
In Mary Magdalene, one divines another illustra- 
tion of that ethereal mimetic instinct which haunts 
Maeterlinck in some of the higher flights of his 
dramatic fancy. In this effort to clothe reality in 


the garb of mysticism, there is something at once 
thin, high and remote. As Maeterlinck has succes- 
sively laid Dante, Shakspere, Browning, Strind- 
berg and Barrie under contribution, so now he turns 
to Paul Heyse, great German poet, the profound 
creator of Maria von Magdala. Heyse's complex 
tissue of emotion and conversion is a work of true 
greatness; the interpretation, by Minnie Maddern 
Fiske, of the great-souled Mary, swayed, overborne, 
transfigured under the magic, pure spell of the 
Master, I recall as a noble achievement of histrionic 

Actuated by feelings natural' if not quite generous, 
Heyse forbade the utilization by Maeterlinck of 
motives employed In Maria von Magdala. Maeter- 
linck nevertheless not only felt that the words of 
Christ were available for all artists ; he himself had 
already imagined the crucial theme of the play in his 
Joyzelle, written before he had ever seen Maria 
von Magdala. Maeterlinck's Mary Magdalene, 
despite its apparent imitativeness, stands fully justi- 
fied in view of its strange beauty and authentic ar- 
tistic worth. 

In several of Maeterlinck's most remarkable 
works for the stage, the problem which inspires his 
muse is the feminine sacrifice of virginity for ends 
transcending the conventional and the personal. 
Vanna will surrender herself — " nude beneath her 
mantle " — to the barbarian conqueror. To save 



the life of her lover, Joyzellc will yield herself to 
Merlin — selfless in the transcendent sacrifice of 
love. Now again, in Mary Magdalene, Maeter- 
linck once more concerns himself with this disquiet- 
ing problem. 

In Bethany, Appius, Lucius Verus, a military 
tribune, and Mary Magdalene gather at the villa 
of Annoeus Silanus, where they discuss the teach- 
ings of Jesus, the itinerant preacher. The teachings 
of Longinus are advanced in opposition to those of 
Jesus; but it is Mary, with feminine intuition, who 
perceives that the reasoning of Longinus neither 
dispels sorrow nor heals the mortal wounds of the 
heart. Across their discussions sounds the clear, 
sweet, penetrating voice of Jesus, addressing a great 
crowd nearby. Transfixed with an emotion of which 
she can give no account, Mary moves as in a trance 
towards Jesus. She must see that face, drown her 
senses in the deeper meanings of those strangely 
healing words. The crowd, with the cry "The 
adulteress!'' would stone her; but Jesus stills the 
tumult. " He that is without sin among you, \tt him 
cast the first stone at her I " 

The miracle begins to work in Mary. The spirit 
of Christ has touched her spirit. To the suit of the 
enamored Verus, Mary is withheld from yielding by 
a new, strange reluctance of which she is but half 
conscious. Gathered at the villa of Mary, the 
friends discuss the marvel of the raising of Lazarus 


and invoke Roman and Greek philosophy to its 
depths, in a spirit of defiant opposition. Suddenly, 
without warning, the resurrected Lazarus appears 
in their midst and addresses Mary: " The Master 
calls you." Verus endeavors to hector Lazarus, to 
free Mary from this new obsession. Moving as 
if in a dream, and deaf to the impassioned en- 
treaties of Verus, Mary follows Lazarus amid awe- 
stricken silence. 

At the house of Joseph of Arimathaea now 
gather many followers of Christ — Nicodemus, 
Lazarus, Cleophas, Zaccheus; Mary, Salome, 
Martha, the sister of Lazarus, and others. As 
they discuss plans for the rescue of the Christ, who 
has been arrested and led away under the lash of 
his Roman captors, comes Mary Magdalene, dis- 
hevelled, barefoot — to plan a rescue, to arouse the 
broken spirit of Christ's followers, who shrink from 
the thought of consequences. Joseph of Arimathaea 
asserts that Christ has made known his will and 
desires no rescue — against which Mary passion- 
ately protests. " We save those whom we love ; 
we listen to them afterwards 1 " Hither comes 
Verus with the miracle wrought — for Pilate, eager 
to evade responsibility, has consented to surrender 
Christ to Verus ; Christ will be permitted to escape, 
for which Verus will suffer exile. To a Roman, 
death is sweet compared to exile ; but to win Mary, 
be suffers even exile. The Christians plead with 


Mary to yield to Verus; but in the moment of 
spiritual crisis, she seems endowed with heavenly 
clairvoyance. " If I bought his life at the price 
which you offer, all that He wished, all that He 
loved, would be dead ! I should be destroying him 
altogether, destroying more than himself, to gain for 
him days that would destroy everything. ..." As 
Jesus passes beneath the window, to the blood- 
thirsty shouts of the mob, "Crucify him! Crucify 
him I ", the Magdalene stands motionless — not 
bowed down with grief unutterable — but transfixed, 
as if in ecstasy, illumined with the light of eternity. 
In that sweet, sad vision of Soeur Beatrice, the 
Maeterlinck, who once said . that by the side of 
women " one has at times a momentary but distinct 
presentiment of a life that does not seem always 
to run parallel with the life of appearances," re- 
vealed a rare power of emotive, intuitive subtlety. 
In Mifry Magdalene that power has been elevated 
to an even higher plane of serenity and wisdom. 
The Magdalene knows the secret of truth — she 
has become " the master of reality." Hers is the 
spiritual divination to see that it profiteth not to 
gain the whole world, even the salvation of the 
life of the Master, and lose one's own soul. 


** I had genius, a distinguished name, high social 
position, brilliancy, intellectual daring; I made art 
a philosophy and philosophy an art: I altered the 
minds of men and the colours of things: there was 
nothing I said or did that did not make people 
wonder. I took the drama, the most objective form 
known to art, and made of it as personal a mode of 
expression as the lyric or the sonnet; at the same 
time I widened its range and enriched its character^ 
ization. Drama, novel, poem in prose, poem in 
rhyme, subtle or fantastic dialogue, whatever I 
touched, I made beautiful in a new mode of beauty: 
to truth itself I gave what is false no less than what 
is true as its rightful province, and showed that the 
false and the true are merely forms of intellectual 
existence. I treated art as the supreme reality and 
life as a mere mode of fiction.. .1 awoke the im^ 
agination of my century so that it created myth and 
legend around me. I summed up all systems in a 
phrase and all existence in an epigram*^ 

De Profundis, 

Wilde's Works. Authorized Edition. 

Vol. XL, pp. 45-46. 


In this age of topsy-turvy dom — the age of Nietz- 
sche, Shaw, Wilde, Chesterton — criticism masquer- 
ades in the garb of iconoclasm; and fancy, fantasy, 
caprice and paradox usurp the roles of scholarship, 
realistic valuation, and the historic sense. The 
ancient and honorable authority of the critic is un- 
dermined by the complacent scepticism of the period. 
And the gentle art of appreciation is only the in- 
dividual filtration of art through a temperament. 
The mania for certitude died with Renan, confidence 
had its last leader in Carlyle, and authority re- 
linquishes its last and greatest adherent in the 
death of Brunetiere. The ease of blasphemy and 
the commercialization of audacity are accepted facts ; 
we have lost the courage and simplicity for the ex- 
pression of the truth unvarnished and unadorned. 
" We know we are brilliant and distinguished, but 
we do not know that we are right. We swagger in 
fantastic artistic costumes; we praise ourselves; we 
fling epigrams right and left ; we have the courage to 
play the egotist, and the courage to play the fool, 
but we have not the courage to preach." The sym- 
bol of art is no longer a noble muse, but only a 



tricksy jade. Criticism, once the art of imaginative 
interpretation, is now mere self-expression — as 
Anatole France puts it, *' the adventures of a soul 
among masterpieces." We are expected to believe 
that the greatest pictures are those in which there 
is more of the artist than the sitter. The defects 
of current criticism are well expressed by a brilliant 
Frenchman — Charles Nodier, was it not ? — in the 
opinion that if one stops to inquire into the probabil- 
ities, he will never arrive at the truth I 

The world has never seen an age in which there 
was more excuse for questioning the validity of con- 
temporary judgment. It would be the height of 
folly to expect posterity to authenticate the vaporings 
of an appreciation which, in shifting its stress from 
the universal to the personnel, has changed from 
criticism into colloquy, from clinic into causerie. In- 
deed, it is nothing less than a truism that the experi- 
ence of the artist in all ages, according to the verdict 
of history, is identical with itself. In the words of 
Sidney Lanier: ** ... the artist shall put forth, 
humbly and lovingly, the very best and highest that 
is within him, utterly regardless of contemporary 
criticism. What possible daim can contemporary 
criticism set up to respect — that criticism which 
crucified Jesus Christ, stoned Stephen, hooted Paul 
for a madman, tried Luther for a criminal, tortured 
Galileo, bound Columbus in chains, drove Dante 
into exile, made Shakspere write the sonneti 



'Wfien in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,' 
gave Milton five pounds for ^ Paradise Lost,' kept 
Samuel Johnson cooling his heels on Lord Chester- 
field's doorstep, reviled Shelley as an unclean dog, 
killed Keats, cracked jokes on Gluck, Schubert, Bee- 
thoven, Berlioz and Wagner, and committed so 
many other impious follies and stupidities that a 
thousand letters like this could not suffice even to 
catalogue them ? " The verdict of the intellectuels 
has always been a veritable stumbling block in the 
path of genius. 

^' It is from men of established literary reputa- 
tion," asserts Bernard Shaw, ^' that we learn that 
William Blake was mad; that Shelley was spoiled 
by living in a low set ; that Robert Owen was a man 
who did not know the world; that Ruskin is in- 
capable of comprehending political economy; that 
Zola is a mere blackguard, and Ibsen is Zola with 
a wooden leg. The great musician accepted by his 
unskilled listener, is vilified by his fellow musician. 
It was the musical culture of Europe which pro- 
nounced Wagner the inferior of Mendelssohn and 

It is not enough to say, with the brilliant author 
of Contemporains, that contemporary criticism is 
mere conversation; it is often little more than mere 
gossip. One is often inclined to question, ^th 
Lowell, whether the powers that be, in criticism, 
are really the powers that ought to be. Especially 



Is this true of a time uniquely characterized by its 
tendency to relentless rehabilitation. The immoral 
iconoclast of a former age becomes the saintly 
anarch of this. The jar of lampblack is exchanged 
for a bucket of whitewash; and in this era of renova- 
tion the soiled linen of literary sinners emerges 
translucent and immaculate from the presses of the 
critical laundry. We are darkly and irretrievably 
given over into the hands of those whom Mr. Robert 
W. Chambers has aptly termed " repairers of repu- 

In view of the premises, it may appear at once 
paradoxical and perverse to attempt any criticism 
at all, especially of the works of a man like Oscar 
Wilde, whose mere name to many is a synonym for 
the appalling degeneracy of an age lashed by the 
polemics of Ibsen, the objurgations of Tolstoi, the 
satire of Shaw, and the invective of Nordau. All 
that pertains to Wilde has for long been res tacenda 
in English society; and he himself, to use his own 
phrase, has passed from a sort of eternity of fame 
to a sort of eternity of infamy. In many instances, 
the critical works dealing with Wilde have been 
marred by wrong-headed judgment, unhealthy de- 
fence, and attempted justification. The fatal flaw 
of contemporary criticism, as Brunetiere says, is that 
we do not see our contemporaries from a sufficient 
height and distance. That we are unable to profit 
by what Nietzsche terms " the pathos of distance,'' 


is a deficiency that cannot be remedied. But at 
least it is the prerogative of art, peculiarly of the 
art of criticism, to make the attempt, if not to fix 
the position, certainly to express judgment upon the 
work of contemporaries. Irresistibly there arises 
the conscientious proposition of the question whether 
the work of Wilde is worthy of genuine critical 
study. In speaking of Sainte Beuve, self-styled the 
" naturalist of the human heart," Emile Faguet once 
remarked that men are, without being entirely right, 
at least not entirely wrong in ignoring many faults 
in the man who possesses the virtue proper to his 
own profession. People are accustomed to overlook 
dissipation in the brave soldier, intolerance in the 
compassionate priest, harshness in the successful 
ruler. One might even instance that frail woman, 
mentioned in Holy Scripture, who was forgiven be- 
cause she loved much. The point of departure for 
an estimate of Wilde is to be found, neither in a 
sense of outrage against society nor in a groping 
for hopeless excuse behind the imperfect researches 
of pathological criminology. The reason for any 
future study of Wilde is to be found either in the 
palliative charm of his personality as friend and 
temperament as artist, or in the orchidaceous 
modernity and brilliant exoticism of his spoken and 
written art. In art, as in life, much virtue inheres 
in the professional conscience ; and the peccable artist 
in all ages has been granted a hearing on account 


of his unfaltering love of art. '^ If one loves art 
at all,'* Wilde once wrote, " one must love it be- 
yond all other things in the world, and against such 
love the reason, if one listened to it, would cry out. 
There is nothing sane about the worship of beauty. 
It is something entirely too splendid to be sane. 
Those of whose lives it forms the dominant note 
will always seem to the world to be pure visionaries." 
And with all his affectation of singularity, his as- 
sumption of the dangerous and delightful distinction 
of being different from others, his joyous treading 
of the primrose path of self-exploitation, his aesthetic 
posturing, charlatanry, and blague — Oscar Wilde 
J was assuredly a personality of whose life art formed 
the dominant note. 

The biography of such souls as D'Ahnunzio, Ver- 
laine, Dowson, or Wilde connotes the infinitely deli- 
cate and complex task of tracing that thin demarca- 
tive line which divides the famous from the infamous. 
Nor is the contemplation of the personal failure of 
a brilliant artist like Wilde — drifting derelict upon 
the tumultuous sea of passion — either congenial 
or edifying. (There is no more tragic spectacle than 
that of a man of genius who is not a man of honor^ 
And yet, until vaster and more definitive studies of 
the problems of homosexuality, of degeneracy, and 
of criminal pathology shall have been completed, 
Wilde will continue to be what Byron has been 
aptly termed: ^^a fascinating trouble/' There is 


a sort of melancholy fascination inherent in the de« 
termination of the causes underlying discrepancy be- 
tween purpose and performance, between art and 
morality. The spirit warreth against the flesh, the 
flesh against the spirit. The selfsame soul which 
joyfully mounts to the shining summits of art cries 
forth its despairing Mea Culpa from the depths of 
life. In the heart of every man is lodged not only 
a Paradiso, but a Purgatorio. As artist and man, 
Oscar Wilde might truly have said with Omar 
Khayyam: " I myself am Heaven and Hell.*' 

There exists no more salient exemplification of 
the reality of the Identity between destiny and human 
character than is to be discovered in the case of 
Oscar Wilde. The crux of his mania was blindness 
to the truth that the man who is the lackey of his 
passion can never be the master of his fate. The 
secret of his downfall is found in the fact that this 
leader in the ranks of individualism was not the 
captain of his own soul. " Not even the most in- 
significant actions," says one of Echcgaray's char- 
acters in El Gran Galeoto, " are in themselves 
insignificant or lost for good or evil. For, 
concentrated by the mysterious influences of modem 
life, they may reach to immense effects." Wilde's 
life signally exemplifies, in AmieFs words, " the 
fatality of the consequences incident to human acts." 
It was Wilde's tragedy to ^drink to the dregs " tlie 
bitter tonic draught of experience," and to realize, 


in infinite wretchedness and isolation, the truth of 
George Eliot's dictum that consequences are unpity- 
ing. In his own words, " I. forgot that every little ^ 
action of the common day makes or unmakes char- ; 
acter, and that therefore what one has done in the 
secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the 
housetop." What strange and pathetic prophecy in 
his eery poem. He las/ 

To drift with every passion till my soul 
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play, 
Is it for this that I have given away 
Mine ancient wisdom, and austere control? 
Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll 
Scrawled over on some boyish holiday 
With idle songs for pipe and virelay, 
Which do but mar the secret of the whole. 

Surely there was a time I might have trod 
The sunlit heights, and from life's dissonance 
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God. 
Is that time dead? Lol with a little rod 
I did but touch the honey of romance — 
And must I lose a soul's inheritance? 

No one would deny to Wilde the title of a Prince 
of Paradoxers. And yet this acolyte of the obverse, 
to whom perversity was a passion, never created so 
puzzling a paradox as the paradox of his own life. 
He to whom humanity was always a disquieting 
problem has bequeathed himself as a far more dis- 


quieting problem to humanity. Ir ony incarnate, yet 
unconscious, lay in his reiterated injunction that it 
is not so much what we say, nor even what we do, 
but what we are that eternally matters. He yearned 
to live and to live more abundantly — "to be, to 
know, to feel ... to go through everything, to 
turn every page, to experience all that can be ex- 
perienced upon the earth." He early confessed that 
he ** wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the 
garden of the world " ; and he went forth into the 
world with that passion in his soul. But he ate only 
the bitter-sweet fruit of the trees of pleasure; and 
it turned to ashes upon his tongue. If he ate of the 
fruit of the tree of knowledge, it was knowledge 
of evil, not of good. This master of the half-truth 
is condemned in the very phrase; it was the fate 
of his character not simply to know, but to wish to 
know, only the half of the truth, of the meaning 
of life. 

" Virtue," says Bernard Shaw, " consists, not in 
abstaining from vice, but in not desiring it." Judg- 
ing by the criterion of this post-Nietzschean valua- 
tion of virtue, Wilde was, constitutionally and con- \ 
geni tally, one of the most vicious of men. If Wilde 
could be termed virtuous in any sense, it was in no 
other than the professional sense. In his life as 
artist, it was his sincerity to be insincere. The final 
verity about the man Is that, through the refractory 
lens of his temperament, all truth appeared encased 


in a paradox. Far from being universal or funda- 
mental, truth to Wilde was so individual, so personal 
a thing that the moment it became the property of 
more than one person, it became a falsehood. If 
his art ever ceased to live for its own sake, it was 
because it lived for Wilde's sake. Indeed Wilde was 
of his essence what the French call personnel; and 
a work of art, as he phrased it, is always the unique 
result of an unique temperament. To Ibsen, cre- 
ation in art consisted in holding judgment-day over 
oneself. To Wilde, creation in art consisted in the 
celebration of a holiday of mentality. In the guise 
of interpreter of the modern spirit, he was always 
happening upon the discovery of a great, an unique 
truth; and this he flippantly and condescendingly 
consented to communicate to that boorish monster, 
the public. Art was an ivory tower in which dwelt 
the long-haired seraph of the sunflower. The drama 
was merely a platform for the flair of the flaneur. 
All the world was a stage for the wearer of the 
green carnation. 

It has ceased to be a paradox to attribute an ex- 
alted, if extravagant sense of virtue, sanity, and 
morality to Walt Whitman, to Elisee Reclus, to 
Bernard Shaw. Their notions of right, of justice, 
and of morality differ from those of the average 
man — Zola's Vhomme moyen sensual — in that they 
sharply diverge from, and not infrequently trans- 
cend, the conventional standards, the perfunctory 


concepts of right living and just conduct. If 
Wilde could be said to have any morals, it was a faith 
in the artistic validity of poetic justice. If he could 
be said to have any conscience, it was the profes- 
sional conscience of the impeccable artist — of Poe, 
of Pater, of Sainte Beuve. If he could be said to 
have a sense of right, it was a sense of the right of 
the artist to live his own untrammelled life. 

Nothing is easier than acquiescence in Wilde's 
dictum that the drama is the meeting place of art 
and life. And yet nowhere more clearly than in 
Wilde's own plays do we find the purposed divorce 
of art from life. It was his fundamental distinction, 
in the role of critic as artist, to trace with admirable 
clarity the line of demarcation between unimagina- 
tive realism and imaginative reality. The methods 
of Zola and the Naturalistic school always drew 
Wilde's keenest critical thrusts. The greatest 
heresy, in his opinion, was the doctrine that art con- 
sists in holding up the camera to nature. He was 
even so reactionary as to assert that the only real 
people are the people who never exist. The view 
of Stendhal, that fiction is un miroir qui se promene 
sur la ffrande route, found as little favor in his eyes 
as the doctrine of Pinero that the dramatists are the 
brief and abstract chronometers of the time. The 
function of the artist, in Wilde's view, is to Invent^ 
not to chronicle; and he even goes so far as to say 
that if a novelist is base enough to go to life for his 


personages, he should at least pretend that they are 
creations, and not boast of them as copies. - To the 
charge that the people in his stories are ^' mere 
catchpenny revelations of the non-existent," he un- 
blushingly retorted: " Life by its realism is always 
spoiling the subject-matter of art. The supreme 
pleasure in literature is to realize the non-existent." 


One year before Arthur Pinero and two years 
before Bernard Shaw, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie 
Wills Wilde was bom at No. i Merrion Square, 
Dublin, on ^October i6, 1854. His parents, both 
brilliant and distinguished figures, took a leading 
part in the life of their age; and certain of the dis- 
tinctive traits of each find striking reproduction in 
their unhappy son. Mr., afterwards Sir, William 
Wilde, Oscar's father, early distinguished himself 
in the field of letters; but the logical bent of his 
mind was toward medical study, which he pursued 
in London, Berlin and Vienna. He devoted his first 
year's fees as a physician, indeed, more, the first 
thousand pounds of his professional earnings, to the 
founding of St. Mark's Ophthalmic Hospital where 
the poor could be treated for eye and ear diseases; 
and his distinction as a physician won him the title 
of " the father of modern otology." He received 
many honors, including knighthood, during his life- 
time ; but it was Oscar Wilde's ipisf ortune to inherit 


from his father, not his talents as a scientiiic spe- 
cialist, but his vicious traits as immoralist and liber- 
tine. Just as Bernard Shaw derived his musical bent 
from his mother, so Oscar Wilde derived his literary 
sense, in great measure, from his brilliant mother — 
Jane Francesca Elgee. Signing her verses " Sper- 
anza " and her letters " John Fanshaw Ellis,'' this 
woman of genius, as Sir Charles Gavan Duffy called 
her, contributed frequently to The Nation, of 
Dublin, from 1847 on; and her celebrated National- 
ist manifesto, Jacta Alea Est, inspired by Williams' 
The Spirit of the Nation, gave her a notoriety little 
short of treasonable. In savoir faire, in all the arts 
of the salon, Lady Wilde was unexcelled; and it was 
the testimony of all who met her that she was a 
personage. In her son are reproduced certain 
marked characteristics: indifference to practical af- 
fairs of life, brilliancy in the art of social converse, 
profound aversion to " the miasma of the common- 
place," and a moral laxity of tone in conversation 
which, in her case, found no counterpart in her 
actual life. 

" Under * direct inheritance ' or * transmission by 
blood,' " records one of Wilde's recent biographers, 
** may, perhaps, be classed his literary capacity, his 
gifts of poetry, languages, of ready mastery of diffi- 
cult studies, his love of the beautiful, the sound com- 
mon-sense of his normal periods, his family and per- 
sonal pride, and his moral courage in the face of dan- 


ger, but also an tndiiference to the dangers of alco- 
holism, an aversion from failure, physical, social 
and mental, an exaggerated esteem, on the other 
hand, for wealth, titles and social success, a tolerance 
for moral laxness." 

As a very small lad, Oscar was spoken of by his 
mother as " wonderful," as a child of phenomenal 
versatility. His fondness for mystery and romance 
was born through his tours with his father in quest 
of archaeological treasures; and his natural wit was 
sharpened by listening to Ireland's thought and wit 
in the salon of his mother. It was at his father's 
dinner-table and in his mother's drawing-room, as 
has been justly said, that the best of his early educa- 
tion was obtained; but he doubtless gained not a 
little from his schooling at the Portora Royal 
School. He had no aptitude for mathematics, nor 
was his talent for composition at this time in evi- 
dence ; but he had a marvellous faculty of intellectual 
absorption, mastering the contents of a book in an 
incredibly short space of time. He kept aloof from 
his companions, practised his wit in bestowing nick- 
names upon them, and enjoyed nothing more than 
leading his teachers into long discussions of some 
point which " intrigued his fancy." His brilliancy 
in reading and interpreting the classics was proven 
at the time of his entrance to Trinity College, Dub- 
lin — October, 1871. Like his great-uncle Ralph, 
Oscar won the Berkeley Gold Medal at Trinity, as 


well as a scholarship ; but he never held his scholar- 
ship, preferring to seek better things at Oxford. 

" I want to get to the point," Oscar Wilde says in 
De Profundis, " where I shall be able to say quite 
simply, and without affectation, that the two great 
turning-points in my life were when my father sent 
ihe to Oxford-and when society sent me to prison." 
Certain it is that at Oxford he first began to ex- 
hibit that devotion to art, that attachment to litera- 
ture, and that passion for beauty which were the 
foundations for whatsoever of value is to be found 
in his writings. Here he sat under Ruskin; and 
there is little reason to doubt th^t the artistic and 
personal influence of Ruskin upon Wilde was far 
from inconsiderable. *' The influence of Ruskin was 
so great," we read in a biographical notice of Wilde, 
'* that Mr. Wilde, though holding games in abomina- 
tion, and detesting violent exercise, might have been 
seen of grey November mornings breaking stones on 
the roadside — not unbribed, however ; * he had the 
honour of filling Mr. Ruskin's especial wheelbar- 
row,' and it was the great author of ' Modern 
Painters' himself who taught him how to trundle 
it." There is, however, little reason to believe, in 
spite of the evidence of The Soul of Man Under 
Socialism, that in Wilde's mind were sown any of 
the seedsof that *' practical interest in social questions 
which is the * Oxford Movement of to-day.' " Rus- 
kin's influence upon Wilde is chiefly exhibited in the 



growth of the lattcr's artistic tastes; for Wilde's 
rooms at Oxford were noted for their beautiful 
decoration and for the display of collections of 
" objects of vertuJ* Recall his well-known remark: 
'' Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china t *' 
In his early Oxford days he began to contribute bodi 
prose and verse to magazines published in Dublin, 
notably to Kottabos and The Irish Monthly. About 
this time he visited Italy; and although inclined, 
through the spiritual element in art, to Roman Ca- 
tholicism, — even writing notable poems such as 
Rome Unvisited, which won high praise from Cardi- 
nal Newman, — his faltering faith lacked the strength 
of ultimate conviction. 

Wilde's journey in Greece with the party which 
accompanied John Pentland Mahaffy was the pro- 
foundest determinative influence which had yet come 
into his life. And if it did not make of him a 
" healthy Pagan," certainly it was a confirmation of 
all his dreams and visions of beauty undreamed and 
unimaginable. In his own words, in regard to this 
experience, " the worship of sorrow gave place again 
to the worship of beauty." For a time he dreamed 
of the beauty of religion; for all time afterwards he 
devoted himself in art to the religion of beauty. It 
has been suggested that Wilde's classical studies at 
Oxford so familiarized him with certain pathologi- 
cal manifestations that he really failed to realize 
their horror; and the brilliant French symbolist* 


Henri de Regnier, does not hesitate to attribute his 
downfall to the fact that he had so steeped himself 
in the life of by-gone days that he did not realize 
the world in which he was actually living. Oscar 
Wilde believed that " he lived in Italy at the time 
of the Renaissance or in Greece at the time of Soc- 
rates. He was punished for a chronological 
error. . . ." 

During his stay at Oxford, he acquitted himself 
very ably in his classes; and possibly through the 
happy chance that Ravenna, which he had recently 
visited, was announced as the topic for the Newdi- 
gate competition, he won the Newdigate prize for 
English Verse in 1878. This poem exhibits a great 
advance on his previous work, and in many respects, 
despite its lack of a controlling central thought, de- 
serves high praise. On leaving Oxford, he went up 
to London in the role of a ^' Professor of Esthetics 
and Art critic," according to Foster's statement in 
the Alumni Oxoniensis. Now he began to assume 
that " affectation of singularity " which so distinc- 
tively marked the author of Melmoth the Wanderer 
— that eccentric genius, the toast of Baudelaire and 
Balzac — Oscar Wilde's great-uncle, Charles Mat- 
urin. Like Zola, like Shaw, Wilde realized that 
this is an age of push and advertisement. He saw 
years of neglect at the hands of the public stretching 
out drearily before him if he did not force himself, 
by sensational methods, upon its attention. When 


the treasures of his mentality went for naught, he 
unhesitatingly focussed the public gaze upon the 
eccentricities of his personality. Like Thomas Grif- 
fiths Wainewright, he assumed the '' dangerous and 
delightful distinction of being different from others." 
Prior to this time, his garb was characterized by no 
marks^ of affectation or preciosity; but he now hit 
upon the spectacular device of outre and bizarre 
costume. Celebrities often exhibit a harmless and 
pardonable penchant for peculiarity of dress — the 
scarlet waistcoat of Gautier, the monk's cowl of 
Balzac, the vaquero costume of Joaquin Miller. In 
his role of aesthete, Wilde wore a " velvet coat, knee- 
breeches, a loose shirt with a turn-down collar, and 
a floating tie of some unusual shade, fastened in a 
Lavalliere knot, and he not infrequently appeared in 
public carrying in his hand a lily or a sunflower, 
which he used to contemplate with an expression of 
the greatest admiration I " It was Wilde's pompous 
pose, as the high priest of ^stheticism, to plume 
himself upon the discovery of whatsoever of real 
beauty exists in nature and art; by inference, those 
whose eyes were not thus opened to the miracles of 
the common day were " hopelessly private persons ** 
— termed Philistines. Wilde and his cult were shin- 
ing marks for the wit, satire and caricature of Du 
Maurier and Burnand; W. S. Gilbert caricatured 
Wilde in " Patience," and Punch overflowed with 


cartoons and skits of which the following is a typical 
example : 

"iEsthete of iEsthetes! 
What's in a name? 
The poet IS WILDE 
But his poetry's tame." 

Wilde's notoriety was enhanced by a pseudo social 
lionization; but in spite of a certain sort of super- 
ficial lustre attaching to him, he was regarded with 
suspicion — the suspicion that at any time his lion's 
skin, as in the fable, might fall to the ground and 
reveal only a braying ass. Thus he began his career 
under the cloud of a not unjustifiable suspicion of 
reclame, quackery, and imposture; and it is a sus- 
picion that not only his life, but even his death, have 
been inadequate to allay. At any rate his notoriety, 
though won by questionable and unworthy means, 
enabled him to secure a publisher for his first volume 
of verse ; and won him an invitation to lecture in the 
United States. He was encouraged to visit Amer- 
ica not as the author of a book of poems which had 
been most widely read in America, but as the much- 
discussed leader of the " ^Esthetic Movement and 
School." Some verses in the World, in which Wilde 
is labelled "Ego Up to Snuffibus Poeta " appeared 
just before his departure for New York; they 
sound the dominant note of public opinion: 


" Albeit nurtured in Democraqr, 

And liking best that state Bohemian 

Where each man borrows sixpence and no man 

Has aught but paper collars ; yet I see 

Exactly where to take a liberty. 

** Better to be thought one, whom most abuse 
For ^>eech of donkey and for look of goose. 

Than that the world should pass in silence by. 
Wherefore I wear a sunflower in my coat, 

Cover my shoulders with my flowing hair. 
Tie verdant satin round my open throat, 

Culture and love I cry, and ladies smile, 

And seedy critics overflow with bile, 

While with my Prince long Sykes's meal I share.** 

Wilde paid to the full the penalty for making 
himself a ** motley to the view." Never afterwards 
was he allowed to forget that the way of the bla^ 
gueur is hard. 

In America he was greeted with amused incred- 
ulity, treated as a diverting sort of literary curiosity, 
ridiculed, satirized, caricatured. His intellectual ar- 
rogance gave tone to his remark at the New York 
Customs House: "I have nothing to declare but 
my genius." He was violently attacked in many 
quarters, and few cared to face the ridicule inevitably 
consequent to any defence of his theories and prac- 
tice. Not a few personages of distinction, never- 
theless, showed him courtesy and hospitality, among 


whom may be mentioned John Boyle O'Reilly, Julia 
Ward Howe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Clara Mor- 
ris, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Joaquin Miller, 
General Grant and the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. 
Although Wilde, as one of his friends records, suf- 
fered poignantly from the attacks directed against 
him, he cannot be absolved from the charge of oc- 
casionally provoking them. " I am not exactly 
pleased with the Atlantic. It is not so majestic as 
I expected," gave rise to an infinitude of humorous 
verse ; and his oft-quoted remark about Niagara was 
nothing more nor less than a clever bait thrown 
out to the press : "I was disappointed with 
Niagara. Most people must be disappointed with 
Niagara. Every American bride is taken there, and 
the sight of the stupendous waterfall must be one 
of the earliest if not the keenest disappointments in 
American married life." Such provoking pleas- 
antries inevitably excited amused comment — notably 
his description of American girls as " little oases of 
pretty unreasonableness in a vast desert of practical 
common-sense." Most people attended his lectures 
out of vulgar curiosity to see and to laugh at this 
licensed buffoon; it did not seem to occur to them, 
as we read in a contemporary review in the Sun, 
that his lecture was " not a performance so trifling 
as to insult the Intelligence of the audience, but a 
carefully prepared essay which proves Its author 
to be a man of cultivation, taste. Imagination, educa- 


tion and refinement." One of his lectures was de- 
scribed to me, by one who heard it, as a weak solution 
of Ruskin; and this is a fair indication of the con- 
temporary valuation. The truth of the matter is 
that his lecture on the English Renaissance was 
a very artistic and capable, if somewhat paradoxical 
and precious appreciation of the significance of that 
movement. And his Decorative Art in America 
was a simple and straightforward expression of 
many sane, practical truths which the utilitarian 
thrust of modern art has amply substantiated. Not 
by any means is it to be understood that Wilde 
originated all the ideas he gracefully presented; he 
simply gave concrete expression to much that was in 
the air in the art criticism of the day. ^^ As a plea 
for the encouragement of the handicraftsman," 
writes Mr. Glaenzer in regard to Decorative Art 
in America; " for the rejection of the hideously 
naturalistic tendency in house- furnishing; for the es- 
tablishment of museums, enriched by the finest ex- 
amples from the finest periods of decorative art; 
for their beautiful surroundings for children, and for 
schools in which these children might develop their 
artistic proclivities under the guidance of artists and 
capable artisans — as a plea for all that is beautiful, 
noble and sane in art, this lecture falls little short 
of being a masterpiece." 

Now that his " apostolic task," to his secret re- 
lief, was concluded, Wilde lightly disclaimed any in- 


tendon of continued charlatanry. Of his connection 
with the iEsthetic Movement, he said in 1883: 
" That was the Oscar Wilde of the second period. 
I am now in my third period." He settled in Paris 
in the Hotel Voltaire, and soon made himself 
known, through presentation copies of his Poems, to 
a number of the leading figures in the world of art 
and letters in Paris. Well received in many quar- 
ters, Wilde numbered among his acquaintances Victor 
Hugo, Edmond de Goncourt, Paul Bourget, Al- 
phonse Daudet, Sarah Bernhardt, and many of the 
leaders of the impressionist school of painters. His 
success In Parisian circles would hav^ been greater 
if he had only possessed the necessary reserve and 
tact. His desire to " astonish the natives," to in- 
dulge in affectations and extravagances of dress, and 
to talk paradoxical stuff about art and letters, rather 
rubbed the Parisians the wrong way. He took 
Balzac for his model, wore the Balzacian cowl when- 
ever he was at work, and carried on the street a 
replica of that celebrated Canne de Monsieur Balzac 
perpfetuated in the novel of Delphine Gay. His 
imitation of Balzac took one good direction: he be- 
gan to take infinite pains with his art. During 
this period Wilde wrote The Duchess of Padua, a 
five-act drama in the Elizabethan style. Under the 
influence of Poe, through Baudelaire, whose Fleurs 
de Mai made a profound impression upon Wilde, 
he wrote a strangely pagan and sensual poem The 


Sphinx — an excellent type of the derivative poem, 
of the art which is not spontaneous. But all his 
diligent application temporarily went for naught. 
The Duchess of Padua was refused by Mary Ander- 
son for whom it was written; and the proceeds of 
the sale of Wilde's property in Ireland could not 
long survive the onslaughts made upon it by his 
extravagant mode of life; his literary work brought 
him nothing. And so, in the summer of 1883, he 
returned to London to try a hazard of new fortunes. 
There he was conspicuously dedicated to oblivion by 
a prominent journal in an article entitled '^ Exit 
Oscar." To which Wilde buoyantly replied: " If 
it took Labouchere three columns to prove that I 
was forgotten, then there is no difference between 
fame and obscurity." 

During the years from 1883 to 1891, the output 
of Wilde was quite small — he gave himself up to 
the art of living rather than to the art of writing. 
For a time, at first, he was compelled once more 
to take the lecture platform, this time in England; 
but he resolutely refused to make capital out of the 
eccentricities of his personal appearance and cos- 
tume. During one of his lecture tours, he met in 
Dublin the lovely Constance Lloyd, who became his 
wife on May 29, 1884. Mrs. Wilde's dowry en- 
abled the young couple to lease a house in Titc 
Street, decorated under the direction of Whistler, 
who became a close acquaintance of Wilde. Garbed 


in a charming " aesthetic " costume of the period, 
Constance Wilde was a beautiful picture in the artis- 
tic Tite Street setting with her chestnut hair touched 
with gold, blue-green eyes, brunette skin with vivid 
cheeks and lips. Decoration not entertainment was 
her role; for while bright in manner and conversa- 
tion, she paled into insignificance in face of the con- 
versational dazzle of her husband. This couple for 
a time were the cynosure of fashionable London. 
Wilde's mots were repeated everywhere; and Mrs. 
Wilde's sartorial taste set the fashion. Even the 
slightest details of the Wilde household were chron- 
icled as matters of interest in the social and artistic 
world. For several years Wilde wrote various 
signed and unsigned articles for the press, purely 
ephemeral in character, and a number of those 
beautiful modern fairy tales which combine a 
delicacy of fancy with a touch of social philosophy, 
rarely charming and arresting. But it became in- 
creasingly difficult for Wilde to earn a living; and 
even Whistler — in The Gentle Art of Making Ene- 
mies — took a hand in facilitating his downhill 
progress. When Messrs. Cassell and Company of- 
fered him the editorship of The fFoman's World 
in 1887, he was in no position to refuse; and his 
connection with that magazine lasted from October, 
1887, to September, 1889. If he was not precisely 
a success as an editor, though conscientious and in- 
dustrious at this period, it was because his taste was 


too refined, too artistic and subtle for the clientele 
of his magazine. It is the verdict of his greatest 
admirers, especially among foreign critics, diat the 
works which he wrote between the time of his mar- 
riage and the year 1892 entitle him to an exalted 
place in English literature, and give him rank as a 
philosopher of acute penetration and delicate insight. 
There were The Happy Prince and The House of 
Pomegranates — fanciful Mdrchen shot through 
with a sensitive and beautiful social pity, like em- 
broidered, jewelled fabrics firmly filiated with a 
crimson thread. There was The Picture of Dorian 
Gray, reminiscent of Balzac's Peau de Chagrin, rich 
in opulent fancy, in subtle mystery, and in the 
strangely ominous prevision of its author's own com- 
ing fate. And there, too, was The Soul of Man 
Under Socialism, that brilliant and paradoxical rev- 
elation of Wilde's temperament — a brochure whidi 
has gone triumphantly forth to the very ends of the 
earth. Last, and highest, was Intentions, that mi- 
raculous masterpiece of connected writings, with its 
inverted truisms and forthright paradoxes, its fanci- 
ful reasoning and reasonable fancy — quintessence 
of style, of form, of taste in art. 

During the years from 1892 to 1895, Wilde 
attained to remarkable success as a playwright; and 
at last the rewards of literature flowed without ces- 
sation into the pockets of this lavish spendthrift. 
Lady Windermere* s Fan, A Woman of No Impor* 


tance. An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of 
Being Earnest, were phenomenal successes; and at 
one time three of Wilde's plays could have been wit- 
nessed on a single night in London. But in March, 
1895, the downfall came; and the information for 
criminal libel .which Wilde, in a state verging upon 
intoxication, laid against the Marquess of Queens- 
berry, was the beginning of his undoing. Wilde at 
last was hoist by his own petard. The history of the 
two trials, Wilde's condemnation and disgrace, his 
two years of poignant anguish and physical suffering 
in prison, his subsequent piteous descent to disaster 
and death — the harrowing details may be learned 
elsewhere. Suffice it to say that his predisposition 
to vice through inheritance, the fearful effect upon 
him of intoxicants which seemed to lash his brain 
to madness, and the indulgence in ultra-stimulative 
food and drink in the two or three years imme- 
diately preceding his disgrace serve, in the eyes of 
the specialist in pathology and degeneracy, as in- 
dicative causes of his downfall and ruin. There 
survive from the days of imprisonment his greatest 
poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and that soul 
autobiography De Profundis — morbid, pitiable, yet 
wonderful mixture of confession and palliation, 
penance and defiance, self-incrimination and excul- 
pation. Wonderful document — true confession or 
disingenuous plea, soul creed or soul blasphemy I 
'* Man is least himself when he talks in his own 


person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the 
truth.*' There is no means, to be sure, of escaping 
the everlasting return of life upon art — art, the 
mirror which the Narcissus of artists holds up to 
himself. Let us, however, remember with Novalis 
that he who is of power higher than the first is a gen- 
ius. Nietzsche says, " All that is profound loves 
a mask." And even if, occasionally and unwittingly, 
we traverse the drcuit from art to life, at least we 
may have the satisfaction of making the attempt to 
dissociate the merits of the dramatist from the 
demerits of the man. 


In 1882, Wilde wrote to Mr. R. D'Oyly Carte, 
manager of the Savoy Theatre, London, that his 
play Vera; or The Nihilists was meant not to be 
read, but to be acted. This opinion has never 
received any support from either critic or public. 
Written when Wilde was only twenty-two years old 
{The New York World, August 12, 1883), this 
play early enrolled him under that drapeau roman" 
tique des jeunes guerriers of which Theophile 
Gautier speaks; yet the time doubtless came when 
Wilde regarded Vera, as he certainly regarded 
his first volume of poems, merely in the light of a 
youthful indiscretion. Unlike Ibsen, Pinero or 
Phillips, Wilde was fortified by experience neither as 
actor nor manager ; there is no record that he ever. 


like Bernard Shaw, acted even in amateur theatricals. 
A cousin in near degree to W. G. Wills, the drama- 
tist, painter and poet, Wilde may have derived his 
dramaturgic talent in some measure from the same 
source. In youth he learned the graceful arts of 
conversation in the brilliant salon of his mother, 
Lady Wilde; and his predilection for the dialogue 
form early revealed itself in certain of his critical 

The play Vera ushers us into the milieu of 
Henry Seton Merriman's The Sowers, but it bears 
all the fantastic earmarks of the yellow-backed fus- 
tian of the melodramatic yarn-spinner, Marchmont. 
One might easily imagine it to be the boyish effusion 
of a romantic youth in the more recent day of Von 
Plehve, Gorki, and the Douma. " As regards the 
play itself," wrote Wilde to the American actress, 
Marie Prescott, in July, 1883, " I have tried in it 
to express within the limits of art that Titan cry of 
the people for liberty which, in the Europe of our 
day, is threatening thrones and making Govern- 
ments unstable from Spain to Russia, and from 
north to southern seas. But it is a play, not of 
politics, but of passion. It deals with no theories 
of Government, but with men and women simply; 
and modem Nihilistic Russia, with all the terror of its 
tyranny and the marvel of its martyrdoms, is 
merely the fiery and fervent background in front 
of which the persons of my dream live and love. 




With this feeling was the play written, and with this 
aim should the play be acted." Despite these lofty 
and promising words, the play warrants no serious 
consideration — even though it won the admiration 
of the great American actor, Lawrence Barrett. 

A pseudo-Folks drama, Vera images the con- 
flict between despotism and nihilism, between a 
vacillating, terror-obsessed Czar and a Russian 
Charlotte Corday. The " love interest " inheres in 
the struggle of the Czarevitch, who is in sympathy 
with the people, between his duty to the Empire 
and his love for the people's champion, the Nihil- 
iste Vera. The theme is one that well might fire 
to splendid efforts; but instead of creatures of flesh 
and blood, looming solid in a large humanity, we 
see only thin cardboard profiles — bloodless puppets 
shifted hither and thither, as with Sardou, at the 
bidding of the mechanical showman. One-sided in 
the possession of only one feminine role, the play is 
largely taken up with interminable passages of 
pointless persiflage between superfluous characters. 
To one who knows the later Wilde, Vera seems 
less like a predecessor of the comedies than a con- 
temporary parody; this Wilde has acquired no mas- 
tery of the arts of epigram, paradox and repartee. 
In the denouement, Vera, chosen by lot to assassinate 
her lover the Czarevitch, now become Czar, turns 
upon her own breast the dagger meant for him, and 
then tosses it over the balcony to the ravening con- 


spirators below with the cry, " I have saved Rus- 
sia I " — this is the very acme of the " theatric V in 
the worst sense, the very quintessence of Adelphi 
melodrama. Not inapposite, perhaps, was the 
characteristic paragraph in Punch (December 10, 
1 881) under Impressions du Theatre: — 

The production of Mr. Oscar Wilde's play "Vera" is 
deferred. Naturally no one would expect a Vcerer to be 
at all certain; it must be, like a pretendedly infallible fore- 
cast, so very weather-cocky. " Vera " is about Nihilism ; 
this looks as if there was nothing in it. But why did Mr. O. 
Wilde select the Adelphi for his first appearance as a 
dramatic author, in which career we wish him all the success 
he may deserve ? Why did he not select the Savoy ? Surely 
where there's a donkey cart — we should say D*Oyly Carte 
— there ought to be an opportunity for an 'Qs-car? 

In the Wilde of the " third period," as he de- 
scribed himself in 1883, is revealed a strangely dif- 
ferent man from the apostle of aestheticism. If he 
has not learned to scorn delights, at least he has 
learned to live laborious days. He takes up his 
quarters at the Hotel Voltaire in Paris, and though 
still guilty of affectation in his assumption of the 
cane and cowl of Balzac, yet he takes the great 
French master for his model and disciplines himself 
to that unremitting labor which, in Balzac^s view, is 
the sine qua non, the law, of art. Recall the 
precious anecdote of Wilde's day's work upon his 


manuscript — deleting a comma in the forenoon an^ 
re-Inserting it in the afternoon! In these days of 
the theatrical " star," for whom " parts " are es- 
pecially written — Cyrano for Coquelin, Vanna for 
Mme. Maeterlinck, the Sorceress for Bernhardt, 
Ulysses for Tree, Lady Cicely Waynflete for Terry, 
and so on — Wilde thought to play his part in writ- 
ing The Duchess of Padua for Mary Anderson, the 
distinguished actress, now Mrs. de Navarro. 

In a letter to The Times, London, March 3, 
1 893, Wilde affirmed : " I have never written a play 
for any actor or actress, nor shall I ever do so. 
Such work is for the artisan in literature, not for 
the artist." This affirmation is both illogical and 
disingenuous; and is belied by the account of his 

The Duchess of Padua, with its Websterian 
title, is a play laid in the sixteenth century — ^ century 
of tears and terror, of poetry and passion, of mad- 
ness and blood. While lounging in his cowl, in imi- 
tation of Balzac, Wilde was evidently studying 
Victor Hugo instead; and in The Duchess of Padua 
there is not a little besides of the bombast, fustian 
and balderdash of Webster and Tourneur. In re- 
ality, The Duchess of Padua is an almost lyrical 
echo of the Shaksperean strain — positively raptur- 
ous in imitativeness. If Lady Macbeth, after the 
murder, say that " A little water clears us of this 
deed," and, later, " Who would have thought the 


old man to have had so much blood In him," Wilde's 
Duchess, after killing her husband, voices the juven- 
ile plagiarism : 

'^ I did not think he would have bled so much, but 
I can wash my hands in water after." 

If Dogberiy voices the opinion that " they that 
touch pitch will be defiled," Wilde's dispenser of 
comic relief can cap it only with such feeble repetition 
as, " if one meddles with wicked people one is like 
to be tainted with their wickedness." Unable to 
catch the magic sheen and heroic gleam of his 
original, Wilde gives us not an original creation but 
an appreciative commentary marred by its false 
rhetoric, exaggerativeness, and toploftical strain. 
Wilde was only too ready to employ the " strong " 
curtain, after the fashion set by Hugo, as a conces* 
sion to modern taste ; in every other respect, this play, 
In pure externals. Is so faithful in its reproduction of 
the Elizabethan style as to seem but one remove 
from refined caricature. 

And yet the play possesses real Interest and 
charm, not perhaps for Its subject but because of its 
spiritual and emotional content — the violently 
transitional moods of romantic passion. It is a tale, 
in five acts, of the love of the gentle Beatrice, 
Duchess of Padua, and of the young Guido Fer- 
rantl, sworn to avenge the Inhuman murder of his 
noble father at the hands of the old and heartless 
Duke, the husband of Beatrice. Ferranti and Bea- 


trice have just confessed their love for each other, 
when the pre-arranged message reaches Ferranti 
that the hour to strike down the Duke is come. He 
tears himself away from Beatrice in definitive fare- 
well, with poignant agony, crying out that a certain 
insurmountable obstacle stands in the way of their 
love. That night, as he pauses outside the Duke's 
chamber meditating upon assassination, there comes 
to Ferranti the belated recognition not only that he 
can never approach Beatrice again with the blood 
of the murdered Duke upon his hands, but that such 
a revenge is deeply unworthy of the memory of his 
noble father. But as Anael comes forth from the 
murdfjr of the Prefect to her Djabal, comes forth 
Beatrice to her Guido. For under the tyranny of 
her love for Guido, she has slain him to whom she 
was ever but a worthless chattel — the Duke, the sole 
obstacle to the fuliilnient of her passion. Guido re- 
coils from her upon whose hands is the blood which 
he himself had solemnly — but suddenly 1 — refused 
to shed. And though Beatrice, like Juliet, is trans- 
formed into a very " Von Moltke of love," she can- 
not, with all the mustered array of her forces, storm 
the bastion of Guido's soul. So sudden and so su- 
preme is her own revulsion of feeling that she finds 
herself passionately denouncing Ferranti to the 
passers-by as the assassin of her husband. Follows 
the trial of Ferranti for his life — a scene quite mem- 
orable for its undulation of emotional process, the 


conflicting fears and hopes of the heart-wrung 
Duchess, and the crisis: Ferranti's false confession 
that the murderer is none other than himself. Vis- 
iting the condemned Ferranti in his cell, the heart- 
broken Duchess, in the excess of her spiritual agony, 
takes poison; and Guido, realizing at last the inner, 
essential nobility of her character, avows for her 
his undying love, and dies upon the point of his 

The Duchess of Padua is noteworthy for its ten- 
der lyrism, the delicate beauty of its imagery, and 
its glow of youthful fire; and despite its mimetic 
stamp, displays real power in instrumentation of 
feeling and in the temperamental and passional 
shades of its mood. The play links itself to Hardy 
and to Whitman, rather than to Shakspere, in its 
intimation of purity of purpose as the sole criterion 
of deed. For here Wilde, concerned less with the 
primitive basis of individuality than with the funda- 
mental impulses of instinctive temperament, reveals 
life as fluid and evolutional. " In every creature," 
writes Hedwig Lachmann, the critic of Wilde, 
^' lurks the readiness for desperate deeds. But when 
all is over, man remains unchanged. His nature 
does not change, because for a moment he has been 
torn from his moorings. After the stormy waters 
which forced its overflow have run their course, the 
river once more glides back into its bed." Like 
Maeterlinck's Joyzelle, Beatrice is forgiven, not be- 


cause " Who sins for love sins not/* but because she 
has loved much. In Wilde's own startling words — 
in The Soul of Man under Socialism, written some 
eight years later — : ** A can cannot always be esti- 
mated by what he does. He may keep the law and 
yet be worthless. He may break the law and yet 
be fine. He may be bad without ever doing any- 
thing bad. He may commit a sin against society, 
and yet realize through that sin his true per- 
fectibn." Maeterlinck maintains that justice is a 
very mysterious thing, residing not in nature or in 
anything external, but, like truth, in ourselves. It is 
in this play, as Mr William Archer has said, that 
Wilde reveals himself a poet of very high rank. 
Nothing is easier, and therefore possibly more mis- 
leading, than to say that The Duchess of Padua is 
not du theatre; for the tests of its suitability for the 
stage have been inconclusive. To Wilde's intense 
disappointment, it was refused by Mary Anderson; 
but it was afterwards produced in the United States 
by Lawrence Barrett with moderate success. Al- 
though announced as in preparation in the Publish-- 
ers* List for 1894, The Duchess of Padua was 
actually not published until ten years later — in the 
fine translation of Dr. Max Meyerfeld of Berlin. 
An unauthorized prose re-translation from Meyer- 
feld's German version was first published in English. 
The original manuscript of the play, stolen from 
Wilde's house in 1895, has never come to light; the 


best version, based on a prompt copy used by Wilde 
and containing his own corrections, is found in the 
authorized edition of his works, edited by Robert 
Ross. In addition to its production in America with 
Lawrence Barrett and Mina Gale in the leading 
roles, there have been at least two productions on 
the continent. At Hamburg, Germany, in Decem- 
ber, 1 904, where it was produced under the most ad- 
verse circumstances, the play proved a failure, being 
withdrawn after three nights. And when it was 
produced in Berlin early in 1906 it was killed by 
the critics, resulting in a heavy loss for its champion, 
Dn Meyerfeld. The play is " theatrical " in the 
proper sense, and, despite its reverses, might, I 
think, afford a suitable medium for the talent of a 
Julia Marlowe or an Ellen Terry under favoring 
conditions. It is interesting to note that Wilde 
at the end of his life acknowledged, according to Mr. 
Robert Ross, that The Duchess of Padua artistically 
was of minor importance. 

It was Wilde's pleasure, during his frequent 
visits to Paris, to delight the French world of art 
and letters with brilliant causeries. The masterly 
ease and exquisite purity of his French were a mar- 
vel to all who heard him. And Wilde once ex- 
plained {Pall Mall Gazette, June 29, 1892) the 
idea he had in mind in writing the play of Salome 
in French : — " I have one instrument that I know 
I can command, and that is the English language. 


There was another instrument to which I had lis- 
tened all my 11 fe, and I wanted once to touch this 
new instrument to see whether I could make any 
beautiful thing out of it . . . Of course, there 
are modes of expression that a Frenchman of letters 
would not have used, but they give a certain relief 
or color to the play. A great deal of the curious 
effect that Maeterlinck produces comes from the 
fact that he, a Flamand by grace, writes in an alien 
language. The same thing is true of Rossetti, who, 
though he wrote in English, was essentially Latin 
in temperament." In this connection, " Leonard 
Cresswell Ingleby" pertinently quotes Max Beer* 
bohm's remark that Walter Pater wrote English as 
though it were a dead language. Although Wilde's 
Salome was revised by Marcel Schwob, it still bore 
after the revision, slight as it must have been, the 
trail of the foreigner. The English version, by 
Lord Alfred Douglas, is a marvellously sympathetic 
and poetic rendition. 

In writing his Salome, Wilde was strongly in- 
fluenced by Herodias, one of Gustave Flaubert's 
Trots Contes, though in Flaubert's tale it is at 
the instigation of Herodias that Salome dances for 
the head of the prophet. Gomez Carrillo, the Span- 
ish translator of Salome, records that Wilde said 
to him at the time he was writing the play: "If 
for no other reason, I have always longed to go to 
Spain that I might see in the Prado Titian's Salome, 


of which Tintoretto once exclaimed: * Here at last 
is a man who paints the very quivering flesh!'" 
And Carrillo mentions that only Gustave Moreau's 
picture, immortalized by Huysmans, unveiled for 
Wilde the '^ soul of the dancing princess of his 
dreams." Whilst Wilde has twisted the Biblical 
story to his individual ends, hi& interpretation is 
said to follow a fairly widespread tradition — as 
fainted at, for instance, in Kenan's Life of Jesus. 
In both Sudermann's Johannes and Massenet's opera 
of Herodiade, Salome is the object of Herod's in- 
fatuation. Wilde has given the Biblical story an 
interpretation fundamentally dramatic in its abnor- 
mality. As a reconstitution of classic antiquity, 
Salome belongs erotically to the school of Pierre 
Louys' Aphrodite and Anatole France's Thais. Like 
Poe, like Baudelaire, like Maeterlinck, Wilde has 
revealed with masterful if meretricious artistry, 
the beautiful in the horrible. 

Salome is a fevered dream, a poignant picture — 
it is like one of those excursions into the macabre 
with which Wilde succeeded in fascinating the Pa- 
risians. In it one discerns the revolting decadence 
of an age when vice was no prejudice and sensuality 
no shame; we hear the resonance of lawless pas- 
sion, and the reverberations of obscure, half-divined 
emotions. The characters stand forth in chiselled 
completeness from the rich Galilean background like 
the embossed figures upon a Grecian urn. The in- 


satiable, sensual Herodias, symbolic figure of the 
malady of that age; and Herod, the Tetrarch, 
obsessed with profoundly disquieting inclinations to 
unlawful passion, ultimately cutting at a single blow 
the Gordian knot of his problem, for the untying 
of which he lacks both courage and conscience. 
Like HebbeFs Daniel, Jokanaan is a wonderfully 
realized figure — the incarnation of a primitive, in- 
tolerant prophet, the voice crying in the wilderness 
— commanding rapt attention far less by what he 
says than by what he is. There is Salome — ^* she 
is like a dove that has strayed • • • she is like a 
narcissus trembling in the wind • . . she is like a 
silver flower. . • . Her little white hands are flut- 
tering like white butterflies." She is unmoved at 
first by any strangely perverse, nameless passion for 
the forbidden. But as in a dream, a memory of 
forgotten, yet half-divined reality, erotic passion 
wakens under the spell of Jokanaan^s presence; and 
his scorn, his anathemas, his objurgations rouse to 
life and to revolt within her the dormant instincts 
of an Herodias. She will sing the swan song of 
her soul in the pasan of the dance, and for the sake 
of revenge so ensnare the plastic Herod in the 
meshes of her perilous and dissolving beauty that 
he can refuse her nothing — even though it were 
the half of his kingdom. The world swims in a 
scarlet haze before her eyes ; and though lust, scorn, 
revenge, and death meet in that terrible kiss of a 


woman scorned, the hour of her own fate has struck. 
Impressive, awful, imperial, Herod speaks the la- 
conic words : '^ Kill that woman 1 '* Salome, daugh- 
ter of Herodias, Princess of Judea, Is crushed be- 
neath the shields of the soldiers, and her death 
sounds the death knell of a decadent and degenerate 
age. A new epoch of culture is at hand. 

In Salome, Wilde depicts a crystallized embodi- 
ment of the age, rather than the age itself. To the 
naturalism of sensation is super-added stylistic sym- 
metry and, in places, what Baudelaire termed su- 
preme literary grace. The influence of Maeter- 
linck is inescapable in the simplicity of the dia- 
logue in places, the iterations and reverberations of 
the leading motives, the evocation of the atmosphere 
and imminence of doom. Nature symbolically co- 
operates in intensifying the feeling of dread; and 
we dimly entertain the presentiment of vast and 
fateful figures lurking in the wings. In such pas- 
sages as the long protests of Herod, there is all the 
decorative opulence of Flaubert; and in the mouth 
of Salome the poetic phrasing holds at times a moon- 
lit radiance. With all its verbal jewellery, the dia- 
logue is at times momentously laconic; as in the 
words of Salome in explanation of Herod's passion: 
" Why does the Tetrarch look at me all the while 
with his mole's eyes under his shaking eyelids? It 
is strange that the husband of my mother looks at 
me like that. I know not what it means. Of a 


truth I know It too well." Wilde declared that 
Salome was a piece of music — with its progressive 
crescendo, emotional paean and tragic finale. And 
Richard Strauss justified Wilde's dictum in his opera 
Salome of far-flung notoriety, asymmetric in its 
form, barbaric in its passion, most arresting at the 
emotional climax of Salome's erotomania. It is 
significant that this, the one play of Wilde's not 
primarily written for the stage, is a true drama in 
the most real sense, bearing the stamp of the con- 
viction of the real artist. No credence need be 
given the statement of Gomez Carrillo, in his El 
Origen de la Salome de Wilde, that this play was 
written for Sarah Bernhardt. The play was written 
in Paris at the turn of the year 189 1-2; and Wilde 
himself said to an interviewer (June, 1892), a state- 
ment supported by Mr. St John Hankin: ** A few 
weeks ago I met Madame Sarah Bernhardt at Sir 
Henry Irving's. She had heard of my play, and 
asked me to read it to her. I did so, and she at 
once expressed a wish to play the title-role." It is 
lamentable that Salome focusses attention upon ab- 
normal and lascivious states of feeling, indicative of 
Wilde's own degeneracy. When I last heard Strauss' 
opera at the Royal Opera House in Berlin, this im- 
pression was deepened and Intensified by the '^ argu- 
ment of the flesh," and the potent instrumentality of 
the temperamentally intense music. And yet, withal. 


Salome Is Wilde's one dramatic achievement of real 
genius, an individual and unique literary creation. 

Since Wilde's death, The Duchess of Padua has 
been printed in both German and English versions; 
of the unpublished plays, only A Florentine Tragedy, 
a fragment, was saved by Wilde's executor, Mr- 
Robert Ross, from the house at 16 Tite Street, 
Chelsea. The manuscript of The Woman Covered 
with Jewels is so fragmentary as to be negligible. 
Mr. Willard, the romantic actor, likewise possessed 
a copy of A Florentine Tragedy, agreeing in every 
particular with the one recovered by Mr. Ross; in 
each the opening scene was gone, showing that Wilde 
had never written it. " It was characteristic of the 
author," says Mr. Ross, " to have finished what he 
never began." It has since been published (Luce, 
Boston) with an introductory note by Mr. Ross; he 
also narrated the history of the play's recovery in 
the Tribune (London) in June, 1906. The opening 
act has been supplied by Mr. T. Sturge Moore, well 
known as the poet of The Vinedresser and Other 
Poems, Absalom, The Centaur^ s Booty, etc., and 
the critic of Diirer and Corregglo. This bit of re- 
construction In A Forentine Tragedy Is remarkable, 
alike for catching Wilde's tone and for Its Individual 
charm. Though the play was originally written for 
Mr. George Alexander and afterwards submitted to 
Mr. Willard, it did not see the footlights in England 


until June 189 1906, when it was produced together 
with Salome by the Literary Theatre Club, at the 
King's Hall, Covent Garden. In Dr. Max Meyer- 
feld's translation, the play has been produced with 
moderate success in Germany (Leipzig, Hamburg 
and Berlin). 

J Florentine Tragedy is a much slighter per- 
formance than Salome; and acting both deep and 
subtle is required to vitalize the characters into real 
human semblance. It is the triangular affair — with 
a difference; and the denouement is a startling climax. 
In the absence of the merchant Simone, his fair 
young wife Bianca is visited by the Florentine 
Prince, Guido Bardi, and courted in Young Lochia- 
var fashion : 

O, make no question, cornel 

They waste their time who ponder o'er bad dreams. 

We will away to hills, red roses clothe, 

And though the persons who did haunt that dream 

Live on, they shall by distance dwindled, seem 

No bigger than the smallest ear of com, 

That cowers at the passing of a bird ; 

And silent shall they seem, out of earshot 

Those voices that could jar, while we gaze back 

From rosy caves upon the hill-brow open. 

And ask ourselves if what we see is not 

A picture merely — if dusty, dingy lives 

Continue there to choke themselves with malice. 

Wilt thou not come, Bianca? Wilt thou not? 


Simone entering, interrupts the ardent courtship; 
and with Southern subtlety feigns the utmost regard 
for his guest. They chat, with an undercurrent of 
meaning in their words, while the old merchant dis- 
plays his gorgeous wares. Interest quickens in the 
discovery that Simone is " playing " the egoistic 
Guido, cunningly drawing him by almost impercepti- 
ble gradations into a trial of skill — or shall it be a 
duel? Bianca holds aloft a torch to the struggle 
until Simone disarms Guido. As they close with 
each other, daggers drawn, Bianca dashes her torch 
to the floor, — only in the end to hear Guido die the 
death of a poltroon. With an exclamation *^ Now 
for the other I " Simone rises from his bloody work 
and gazes at his trembling wife. The splendid man- 
hood of her husband has dazzled her ; and in wonder 
and subjugation she goes towards him with arms out- 
stretched, murmuring the words, " Why did you not 
tell me you were so strong ? *' Her tremendous re- 
vulsion of feeling is matched by one no less instan- 
taneous or momentous than her own. And with the 
words, " Why did you not tell me you were so beau- 
tiful? ", Simone takes Bianca in his arms and kisses 
her on the mouth. Strange lovers, stranger recon- 


A new, a strikingly different Wilde, next makes his 
debut in the society comedy. Wilde's earlier plays 


brought him nothing, scarcely even notoriety; for 
the British public could not be persuaded to believe 
that any work of poetic beauty or dramatic art could 
emanate from a licensed jester, angler before all for 
the public stare. Wilde had incontestibly estab- 
lished his reputation as a buffoon ; and once a bufioon, 
always a buffoon I One may truly say of Wilde, as 
Brandes once said of Ibsen, that at this period of 
his life he had a lyrical Pegasus killed under him. 
( Like Bernard Shaw, Wilde was forced to the con- 
clusion that the brain had ceased to be a vital organ 
in English life. *. As he expressed It, the public used 
the classics as ^ means of checking the progress of 
Art, as bludgeons for preventing the free expression 
of Beauty in new forms. It was his aim to extend 
the subject-matter of art; and this was distasteful 
to the public since it was the expression of an indi- 
vidualism defiant of public opinion. And to Wilde, 
public opinion represented the will of the Ignorant 
majority as opposed to that of the discerning few. 
Far from holding that the public is the patron of the 
artist, Wilde vigorously maintained that the artist is 
always the munificent patron of the public. The 
very bane of his existence was the popular, yet pro- 
foundly erroneous, maxim that " the drama's laws 
the drama's patrons give." The work of art, he 
rightly avers. Is to dominate the spectator : the spec- 
tator Is not to dominate the work of art. The drama 
must come into being, not for the sake of the theatre, 


but through the inner, vital necessity of the artist for 
self-expression. He scorned the field of popular 
novelism, not only because it was too ridiculously 
easy, but also because to meet the requirements of 
the sentimental public with its half-baked conceptions 
of art, the artist would have to " do violence to his 
temperament, would have to write, not for the ar- 
tistic joy of writing, but for the amusement of half- 
educated people, and so would have to suppress his 
individualism, forget his culture, annihilate his style, 
and surrender everything that is valuable to him." 
In his search for lucrative employment for his in- 
dividual talents, his eye fell upon the comic stage. 
It dawned upon him that Tom Robertson, H. G. 
Byron and W. S. Gilbert — to say nothing of Sheri- 
dan — were still living factors in the English drama, 
and that the style of Dumas pis, In the Scribishly 
" well-made " pattern, met the most important re- 
quirements of popular taste. While little scope was 
allowed the creator of the higher forms of dra- 
matic art, in the field of burlesque and light, even 
farcical comedy, the artist was allowed very great 
freedom in England. It was under the pressure of 
such convictions that Wilde now sought a hazard of 
new fortunes. 

The four society comedies which Wilde wrote in 
rapid succession, which immediately gained huge 
success in England, and have since been played to 
vastly appreciative audiences in Europe and the 


United States, are so similar in style, treatment and 
appeal as almost to warrant discussion as a unique 
genre. Only The Importance of Being Earnest 
really differentiates itself, generically, from its pre- 

Lady fFindermere^s Fan, perhaps the most cele- 
brated of Wilde's comedies, is concerned with 
the hackneyed theme of the eternal triangle — the 
theme of Odette, Le Supplice £une Femme,znd 
countless other comedies of the French school. 
Only by means of the flashi|ig.^aL^;ue is Wilde 
enabled to conceal the essential conventionality 
and threadbare melodrama of the plot. The 
characters are lacking in the ultimate stamp of re- 
ality, functioning primarily as social types in a situa- 
tion, only secondarily as individuals working out 
their own salvation. And yet somehow he has man- 
aged to give them the " tone of their time,*' and to 
endow them with that air of social ease in a draw- 
ing-room which is the essential to comedy in an en- 
lightened society. The following scene in which 
Mrs. Erlynne discovers the letter of farewell from 
Lady Windermere to her husband, is significant 
and dramatically impressive; but it seems obviously 
suggested by the incident in Ibsen's Ghosts, which 
inspired the title. 

Parker. Her Ladyship has just gone out of the 



Mrs. Erlynne. {Starts, and looks at the servant 
with a puzzled expression on her face.) CXit of the 

Parker. Yes, madam — her ladyship told me 
she had left a letter for his lordship on the table. 

Mrs. Erlynne. A letter for Lord Windermere ? 

Parker. Yes, madam. 

Mrs. Erlynne. Thank you, {Exit Parker. 
The music in the ballroom stops.) Gone out of her 
house I A letter addressed to her husband ! ( Goes 
over jto bureau and looks at letter. Takes it up 
and lays it down again with a shudder of fear.) 
No, no I It would be impossible ! Life doesn't re- 
peat its tragedies like that I Oh, why does this 
horrible fancy come across me ? Why do I remem- 
ber now the moment of my life I most wish to for- 
get? Does life repeat its tragedies? {Tears open 
letter and reads it, then sinks down into a chair 
with a gesture of anguish.) Oh, how terrible I 
The same words that twenty years ago I wrote to her 
father I and how bitterly I have been punished for 
it ! No ; my punishment, my real punishment is to- 
night, is now I 

One other scene, that in which Mrs. Erlynne 
finally persuades Lady Windermere to return to her 
husband and child, is a situation of very nearly real 
seriousness on the stage ; it is Wilde's mistake to put 
into the mouth of Mrs. Erlynne only the words the 


average spectator expects her to say, not the ex- 
pression of the sentiments a woman who had passed 
through her devastating experience would inevitably 

In A fVoman of No Importance, Wilde pretends 
to break a lance in behalf of even justice at the 
hands of society for men and women who have 
committed indiscretions. In his own words, this 
play is the embodiment of his conviction that there 
should not be " one law for men and another law 
for women." He was too much preoccupied with 
his thesis to make his characters real human beings; 
and the epigrammatic brilliance of the dialogue 
gives a sort of family resemblande to many of the 
" characters." Playing with great restraint, sim- 
plicity and finesse, Marion Terry as Mrs. Arbuthnot 
won the sympathy of her audience at a recent revival 
I attended at His Majesty's Theatre, London; but 
Beerbohm Tree could not accomplish the miracle of 
vitalizing Lord lUingworth. liester Worsley 
argues with futility against a jury " packed " against 
her declamatory prudery; and Gerald is a brainless 
dolt. Lady Hunstanton and Lady Caroline Ponte- 
fract are delightful and naive, comic admixtures of 
natural shrewdness, kindliness of heart, and. surpass- 
ing British ignorance and insularity. The opening 
scene is something new in drama, the forerunner of 
Don Juan in Hell and Getting Married; indeed, 
Wilde declared that he wrote the first act of A 


Woman of No Importance in answer to the com- 
plaint of the critics that Lady JVindermere^s Fan 
was lacking in action. ^^ In the act in question/* 
said Wilde, '^ there was absolutely no action at all. 
It was a perfect act I '' Wilde once asked CXiida 
what she herself considered the chief feature in her 
work which won success. " I am the only living 
English writer," she replied, " who knows how two 
Dukes talk when they are by themselves I " It 
might, with truth, be said of Wilde that he was the 
only living English writer who knew how two 
Duchesses talk when they are by themselves. 

An Ideal Husband is somewhat more compact 
and straightforward than either of the two previous 
comedies; the dialogue is more immediately ger- 
mane to the action; the epigram is less frequently 
employed for the sake of covering deficiencies of 
plot or tiding over lapses In interest. Wilde was a 
curious mixture of the ultra-modern and the senti- 
mental reactionary. The triteness of his technique 
was balanced by his facility in contriving " scenes," 
" situations," and " curtains." The modernity of 
his dialogue is matched by the mawkish convention- 
ality of his moral fond. The long soliloquy at the 
beginning of the third act of Lady JVindermere^s 
Fan appears hopelessly antiquated as a theatrical 
device to a generation bred on Ibsen's rigorous 
technique; and yet Wilde Imltated-Ibsen in long 
^tage directions, descriptive of the characters of hit 


plays. Bernard Shaw himself could not have im- 
proved upon Wilde's thumb-nail sketch of Sir Robert 
Chiltem : 

A man of forty, but looking somewhat younger. Clean- , 
shaven, with finely-cut features, dark-haired and dark-eyed. 
A personality of marL Not popular — few personalities 
are. But intensely admired by the few, and deeply re^)ected 
by the many. The note of his manner is that of perfect 
distinction, with a slight touch of pride. One feels that he 
h conscious of the success he has made in life. A nervous 
temperament, with a tired look. The finely-chiselled mouth 
and chin contrast strikingly with the romantic expression in 
the deepset eyes. The variance is suggestive of an almost 
complete separation of passion and intellect, as though 
thought and emotion were each isolated in its own ^here 
through some violence of will-power. There is no nervous- 
ness in the nostrils, and in the pale, thin, pointed hands. 
It would be inaccurate to call him picturesque. Picturesque- 
ness cannot survive the House of Commons. But Vandyck 
would have liked to paint his head. 

The real diflferencc between the spirit of Wilde 
and the spirit of Ibsen is exhibited in the denoue- 
ment of An Ideal Husband as contrasted with that 
of The Pillars of Society. Ibsen^s "hero*' ulti- 
mately confesses his moral delinquency in the most 
public way, and the curtain falls upon a self-hu- 
miliated and repentant man ready to "begin over 
again *' In order to work out his own salvation. 
Aside from a good scare. Sir Robert Chiltem is not 


only allowed to go scot-free, but is actually elevated 
to a vacant seat in the Cabinet 1 Wilde is reported 
to have said: "Nobody elsc*s work gives me any 
suggestion. It is oiily by entire isolation from 
everything that one can do any work. Idleness gives 
one the mood, isolation the condition. Concentra- 
tion on one's self recalls the new and wonderful 
world that one presents in the color and cadence of 
words in movement." It is matter for regret that 
not Ibsen, but Sardou and Dumas fits usually gave 
Wilde his suggestions. For with all his faults, he 
possessed in rich measure " the sense of the thea- 
tre." His plays ran so smoothly that the public was 
convinced that it was an easy task to write them. 
At the height of Wilde's fame, Bernard Shaw la- 
conically remarked : " I am the only person in 
Lottdon who can't sit down and write an Oscar 
Wilde play at wiU I " 

It was Wilde's characteristic contention that there 
never would be any real drama in England until it 
is recognized that a play is as personal and indi- 
vidual a form of self-expression as a poem or a pic- 
ture. Here Wilde laid his finger upon his own fun- 
damental error. By nature and by necessity, the 
drama is, of all the arts, the most impersonal : Vic- 
tor Hugo said that dramatic art consists in being 
somebody else. So supreme an individual was Wilde 
that he lacked the dramatic faculty of intellectual self- 
detadiment. Conversationally he could never be 


anybody but himself. To Bernard Shaw, Wlide ap- 
peared as, in a certain sense, the only thorough 
playwright in England — because he played with 
everything: with wit, philosophy, drama, actor and 
audience, die whole theatre. The critics thought 
that An Ideal Husband was a play about a bracelet; 
but Wilde maintained — and not without show of 
reason — that they missed its entire psychology: 
'* The difference in the way in which a man loves a 
woman from that in which a woman loves a man; 
the passion that women have for making ideals 
(which is their weakness), and the weakness of a 
man who dares not show his imperfections to the 
thing he loves.'' They did not miss Wilde's be- 
setting sin, however: manufacturing the great ma- 
jority of his characters, as talkers, in the image and 
superscription of Wilde. It is little short of as- 
tounding that Wilde's comedies are resplendent by 
reason of qualities which have no intrinsic or organic 
relation to dramatic art. 

The Importance of Being Earnest is Wilde's 
nearest approach to the creation of an unique genre. 
It is characteristic of Wilde that his most important 
comedy was cast in the most frivolous form. Per- 
haps additional testimony to its value and essential 
novelty is found in the fact that German critics, 
deceived by Its extravagant plot, branded it as of 
no value I Its point of departure is the titular pun ; 
but its real purpose, could not have been better ex^ 


pressed than in the sub-title : " A Trivial Comedy 
for Serious Peogle/' Though Wilde, rather sug- 
gestively, chose to designate it on one occasion as a 
" rose-coloured comedy," the truth is that it is an 
epigrammatic extravaganza, cast in the form of 
farce. Meredith's " oblique ray " floods it through- 
out, and the action proceeds to the humanely malign 
accompaniment of "volleys of silvery laughter.** 
Based on the absurd complications arising from the 
endless employment of aliases and written in the 
light, French style, this play is actu ally so cial s atire 
on the fanfasrig plapf>. I recall the stroiiglehse of 
the genuinelycomic with which I was affected on once 
seeing in London Sir George Alexander as Worth- 
ing, in that devastating entry in deep mourning for 
the loss of the brother he had glibly invented — 
only to happen upon his friend who is at that moment 
personating the fictitious brother I Like Shaw's You 
Never Can Tell, it is psychological farce; and the 
characters, to borrow a phrase of Mr. Huneker's, 
indulge in " psychical antics." Its congeners are 
St. John Hankin's The Charity that Begins at 
Home, Shaw's The Philanderer, and Barriers The 
Admirable Crichtoii. Mr. St. John Hankin has 
pertinently remarked that the type of play Wilde 
struck out in The Importance of Being Earnest was 
the only quite original thing he contributed to the 
English stage — in which view he has been sup- 
ported by the clever German, Alfred Kerr. Among 




German critics, Hermann Bahr is noteworthy in re- 
fusing to consider Wilde as fundamentally frivolous, 
maintaining that his paradoxes rest upon a profound 
insight into humanity. ^' Wilde says serious and 
often sad things that convulse us with merriment, not 
because he is not ' deep,' but precisely because he is 
deeper than seriousness and sadness, and has recog- 
nized their nullity." Wilde always affirmed that he 
respected life too deeply ever to discuss it seriously. 
Illuminating — almost prophetic 1 — is Shaw's char- 
acterization of Wilde, evoked by this play on its 
original production: 

'* Ireland is, of all countries, the most foreign to 
England, and to the Irishman (and Mr. Wilde is 
almost as acutely Irish as the Iron Duke of Wel- 
lington) there is nothing in the world quite so ex- 
quisitely comic as an Englishman's seriousness. It 
becomes tragic, perhaps, when the Englishman acts 
on it; but that occurs too seldom to be taken into 
account, a fact which intensifies the humour of the 
situation, the total result being the Englishman ut- 
terly unconscious of his real self, Mr. Wilde keenly 
observant of it, and playing on the self-unconscious- 
ness with irresistible humour, and finally, of course, 
the Englishman annoyed with himself for being 
amused at his own expense, and for being unable to 
convict Mr. Wilde of what seems an obvious mis- 
understanding of human nature. He is shocked, 
too, at the danger to the foundations of society when 


seriousness Is publicly laughed at. And to com- 
plete the oddity of the situation, Mr. Wilde, touch- 
ing what he himself reverences, is absolutely the 
most sentimental dramatist of the day." 


The comedies of Oscar Wilde stem not from the 
Ibsen of Lovers Comedy^ but from the Dumas fls 
of Francillon, the Sardou of Divorgons, and the 
Sheridan of The School for Scandal. Nor are 
they lacking in that ffrain de folie which was the sign 
manual of Meilhac and Halevy, of Gilbert and Sul- 
livan. In verve, esprit and brilliance Wilde is close 
akin to his compatriot and fellow townsman, Ber- 
nard Shaw; in both we find a defiant individualism, 
a genius for epigrammatic formulation of the truth, 
and a vein of piquant and social satire. Inferior to 
Shaw in most respects, Wilde surpasses him in two 
features: the sensitiveness of his taste, and the re- 
markable social ease of his dialogue. As an artist 
Wilde was generously endowed with the discretion 
which Henry James aptly terms the " conscience of 
taste " ; and, unlike Shaw, he was far more intent 
upon amtisement than upon instruction. To at- 
tempt analysis of Wilde's comedies were as profitless 
as to inquire into the composition of a soufflee or the 
ingredients of a Roman Candle. It is enough that 
he translates us into le monde ou Von ne s'ennuie 
pas. Why carp because Wilde's theatric devices are 



at superficial as those of Scribe, his sentimentality 
as mawkish as that of Sydney Grundy, and his mor- 
alizing as ghastly a misfit as the Mea Culpa of a 
Dowson or the confessional of a Verlaine I 

The phenomenal popularity of Wilde's comedies 
in an epoch of culture associated with naturalism in 
art is significant testimony to his rare quality as a 
purveyor of intellectual pleasure. In the category 
of the great drama of the day considered as drama 
— Ibsen, Hauptmann, Sudermann, Hervieu, Strind- 
berg — they have no place, in that in no ultimate 
sense are they conditioned by the fundamental laws 
of the drama. They are deficient in final portraiture 
of character, the play and interplay of really vital 
emotions, and the indispensable conflict of wills and 
passions witho(it which drama is mere sound and 
fury signifying nothing. Bernard Shaw pronounced 
Wilde the arch-artist: he was so colossally lazy. 
An aesthetic and luxurious idler, Wilde was incapable 
of sustained and laborious pre-occupation with his 
art work. It has been told of Wilde that he filled 
notebooks with the casual inspirations of his own 
conversation and made his plays out of these note- 
books. It was true, though sounding like the vain- 
est of poses, that even when his life was most free 
from business cares he never had, as he put it, either 
the time or the leisure for his art. In the deepest 
sense, he lacked what Walter Pater called the re- 
sponsibility of the artist to his material; although 


this Is not to say that he failed to recognize, from the 
standpoint of style, the beauty of the material he em- 
ployed, and to use that beauty as a factor in pro- 
ducing the aesthetic effect. Like Thomas Griffiths 
Wainewright, he sought to put into practice the 
theory that '^ life itself is an art, and has its modes 
of style no less than the arts that seek to express it." 
And the great drama of his life, as he confessed to 
Andre Gide, was that he had given his genius to his 
life, to his work only his talent. 

There is no term which so perfectly expresses the 
tone of Wilde's comedies as nonchalance. The as- 
tounding thing is that, in his smcere effort to amuse 
the public, he best succeeded with the public by hold- 
ing it up to scorn and ridicule with the lightest 
satire. " If we are to deliver a philosophy," says 
Mr. Chesterton, in speaking of contemporary life, 
" it must be In the manner of the late Mr. Whistler 
and the ridentem dicere verutn. If our heart is to 
be aimed at, it must be with the rapier of Steven- 
son, which runs through without either pain or 
puncture." If our brain is to be aroused, he might 
have added, it must be with the paradox and epigram 
of Oscar Wilde. Horace Walpole once said that 
the world is a comedy for the man of thought, a 
tragedy for the man of feeling. He forgot to say 
that it is a farce for the man of wit. It was Wilde's 
creed that ironic imitation of the contrasts, absurdi- 
ties, and inconsistencies of life, its fads and fancies, its 


quips and cranks, its follies and foibles, give far more 
pleasure and amusement than faithful portraiture of 
the dignity of life, its seriousness and profundity, 
its tragedy, pity, and terror. His comedies are 
marked, not by consistency in the characters, con- 
tinuity of purpose, or unity of action, but only by per-- 
sistence of the satiric vein and prevalence of the 
comic mood. Like Flaubert, Wilde gloried in de- 
moralizing the public, and he denied with his every 
breath Sidney Lanier's dictum that art has no enemy 
so unrelenting as cleverness. His whole literary 
career was one long, defiant challenge to Zola's 
pronunciamento : Phomtne de genie tCa jamais 
d' esprit. 

While the dialogue of Wilde's comedies, as the 
brilliant Hermann Bahr has said, contains more 
verve and esprit than all the French, German, and 
Italian comedies of to-day put together, neverthe- 
less our taste is outraged because Wilde lacks a de- 
veloped sense for character, and employs a conven- 
tional and time-worn technique. Wilde's figures 
are lacking in vitality and humanity; it is impossible 
to believe in their existence. Put Wilde's cleverest 
sayings into the mouths of characters other than 
those that utter them — and the play remains 
essentially unaltered. The characters are mere 
mouthpieces for the diverting ratiocinations of their 
author, often appearing less as personalities than as 
personified customs, embodied prejudices and con- 


ventions of English social life. By means of these 
pallid figures, Wilde has at kSfST admirably succeeded 
in interpreting certain sides of the English national 
character. The form of his comedies approximates 
to that of the best French farces, but his humor has 
the genuine British note. There is no escaping the 
impression, however, that his characters are autom- 
atons ^d^^uppels" — masks which barely suffice to 
conceal the'luieaments of Wilde. Here we see the 
rmsonneur, the commentator, much as we find him in 
Dumas jils, or in Sudermann. It is in this way that 
Wilde itentifies his characters, not with their proto- 
types in actual life, but with himself. 

As Bernard Shaw may be said to have invented 
the drama of dialectic, so Oscar Wilde may be said 
to have invented the drama of conyersation. 

In 1 89 1 Walter Pater wrote: " There is always 
something of an excellent talker about the writings 
of Mr. Oscar Wilde; and in his hands, as happens 
so rarely with those who practise it, the form of 
dialogue Is justified by its being really alive. His 
genial laughter-loving sense of life and its enjoyable 
intercourse goes far to obviate any crudity that may 
be in the paradox, with which, as with the bright 
and shining truth which often underlies it, Mr. 
Wilde startling his * countrymen ' carries on, more 
perhaps than any other, the brilliant critical work 
of Matthew Arnold." This characterization is the 
very truth itself. It is interesting to recall Wilde's 



confession that Keats, Flaubert, and Walter Pater 
were the only writers who had influenced him. 

Jean-Joseph Renaud and Henri de Regnier have 
paid eloquent tributes to Wilde as a master of the 
causerie. A great lady once fantastically said of 
him : " When he is speaking, I see round his head a 
luminous aureole." The mere exaggeration of the 
phrase is testimony to Wilde's mastery in utterance 
of golden words. " He was," says W. B. Yeats, 
" incomparably the finest talker of his epoch. It 
was, perhaps, because I admired his conversation so 
much that I never fully appreciate his books. They 
remind me of something else, incomparably more 
spontaneous. Both he and George Moore seemed 
to me like Tennyson's Launcelot, who, by sheer 
vehemence of nature, all but saw the Grail 
— but the full vision was only for the meek 
Galahad." Wilde's inventive and imaginative 
faculty was inexhaustible; and for hours at a 
time he could recite poems in prose, indulge in 
a riot of paradox and epigram, or descant with 
miraculous and exquisite eloquence upon paint- 
ing, literature, art, and — above all — upon life. 
The beauty of his sentences was the beauty of the 
arabesque; his eloquence was the eloquence of the 
rhythmical. In it all lurked the defect of the florid, 
the gaudy, the over-elaborated. Like the Japanese 
painters, Hokusai and Hokkei, Wilde was an artist 
in the little; and his art found room for expansion 


only in the microcosm. He was a slave to the 
Scheherazade of his fancy, and unsparingly lavish in 
the largess of his wit. He realized that he was a 
past-master in the gentle art of making conversation, 
and he nonchalantly ignored Goethe's precept: 
" Bilde, Kunstler, rede nicht I " The result is, that 
he does not construct, he only sets off a mine. His 
art is the expression of tiis enjoyment of verbal pyro- 
technics. The height of his pleasure was to shock 
the average intelligence. The result in his comedies, 
while vastly diverting, is deplorable from the stand- 
point of dramatic art. For the conversations are 
disjointed, and, in the dramatic sense, incoherent, in 
that they live only for the moment, and not at all 
for the sake of elucidation and propulsion of the 
dramatic process. The comparison with Shaw in 
this particular immediately suggests itself; but the 
fundamental distinction consists in the fact that 
whereas in Shaw's comedies the conversation, witty 
and epigrammatic to a degree, is strictly germane to 
the action, with Wilde the conversation, with all its 
sparkling brilliancy, is in fact subsidiary and beside 
the mark. As Hagemann has said, in Wilde's 
comedies the accent and stress is thrown wholly upon 
the epigrammatic content of the dialogue. 

At bottom and in essence, Wilde is a master in 
the art of selection. He is eminently successful in 
giving the most diverting character to our moments 
as they pass. His art is the apotheosis of the mo- 


ment. '^What may not be said/' he once asked, 
"for the moment and the moment's monument " ? 
Art itself, he averred, Is " really a form of exaggera- 
tion, and selection,, which is the very spirit of art, is 
nothing more than an intensified ode of over-em-^ 
phasis." Wilde was a painter, a Neo-Impressionist. 
From the palette of his observation, which bore all 
the radiant shades and colors of his temperament, 
he selected and laid upon the canvas many brilliant 
yet distinct points of color. Seen in the proper light 
and from the just distance, the canvas takes on the 
appearance of a complete picture — quaint, unique, 
marvellous. It is only by taking precisely Wilde's 
point of view that the spectator is enabled to syn- 
thesize the Isolated brilliant points Into a harmonious 
whole. Oscar Wilde is a PoIntiUIste. 

There Is no room for doubt that Oscar Wilde 
was, as Nordau classed him, a pervert and a degen- 
erate. And yet his case warrants distrust of the 
dictum that an artist's work and life are fundamen- 
tally Indissociable. Wilde was a man, not only of 
multiple personality, but of manifest and disparate 
achievement. The style is not always the man ; and 
the history of art and literature reveals not a few 
geniuses whose private life could not justly be cited 
In condemnation of their pictures, their poetry, or 
their prose. It Is Indubitable that Wilde, with his 
frequently avowed doctrine of irresponsible individ- 
ualism and Pagan insistence upon the untrammelled 



expansion of the Ego, gave suicidal counsel to the 
younger generation. He based his apostolate upon 
the paradox; and as he himself asserts, the paradox 
is always dangerous. In his search for the elusive, 
the evanescent, the imaginative, he found certain 
exquisite truths ; but they were only very partial and 
obscure truths, embedded in a mass of charmingly 
phrased, yet damnably perverse, falsehood. Much 
of his verse — flagrant output of what Robert 
Buchanan maliciously crystallized in the damning 
phrase, "The Fleshly School of Poetry*' — is a 
faithful reflex of his personality and feeling, with its 
morbid and sensuous daydreams, its vain regrets for 
" barren gain and bitter loss," its unhealthy and 
myopic vision, its obsession with the wanton and the 
macabre. And yet, in spite not only of these things 
but also of the persistent reminder of alien influences, 
certain of his poems are lit with the divine spark 
and flt fully flame out with startling and disturbing 

As an artist in words, as prose stylist, Wilde was 
possessed of real gifts. To read his confession is 
to realize that art was the passion of his life: " To 
give form to one's dreams, to give shape to one's 
fancy, to change one's ideas into images, to express 
one's self through a material that one makes lovely 
by mere treatment, to realize in this material the 
immaterial ideal of beauty — this is the pleasure of 
the artist. It is the most sensuous and most intel- 


lectual pleasure in the whole world." The social 
ease of his paradoxes, the opulence of his imaginative 
style, the union of simplicity and beauty of phrase- 
ology with vague and sometimes almost meaningless 
gradations and shades of thought, his insight into the 
real meaning of art, his understanding of the '* thing 
as in itself it really is," and his rapt glimpses of art's 
holy of holies — all these things, at times and in in- 
tervals, were his. His faculty of imitation was 
caricature refined and sublimated to an infinite de- 
gree; and, with less real comprehension of the 
arcana of art, Wilde might have been the author of 
a transcendent Borrowed Plumes. And if he him- 
self did not actually and literally masquerade in 
the literary garments of other men, certainly he 
possessed that rare faculty, now almost a lost art, 
of creeping into another's personality, temporarily 
shedding the husk of self, and looking out upon the 
world with new and alien eyes. There lies, it 
would seem, the secret of his genius — the faculty 
of creative and imaginative interpretation in its ul- 
timate refinement. He was ever the critic as artist, 
never the creator in the fine frenzy of creation. It 
has been said of him that he knew everything; but 
in the last analysis his supreme fault, both as man 
and artist, was his arrogance and his overween- 
ing sense of superiority. Breaks down in Wilde's 
case — as does many another truism — the maxim : 
Tout comprendre dest tout p^rdonner. 


" To be free,'* wrote a celebrity, " one must not 
conform." Wilde secured a certain sort of free- 
dom in the drama through his refusal to conform 
to the laws of dramatic art. He claimed the privi- 
leges without shouldering the responsibilities of the 
dramatist. He imported the methods of the 
causerie into the domain of the drama, and turned 
the theatre into a house of mirth. Whether or no 
his destination was the palace of truth, certain it 
is that he always stopped at the half-way house. 
Art was the dominant note of his literary life; but 
it was the art of conversation, not the art of 
drama. His comedies, as dramas, were cheap 
sacrifices to the god of success. He made many 
delightful, many pertinent and impertinent observa- 
tions upon English life, and upon life in general; 
but they had no special relation to the dramatic theme 
he happened for the moment to have in mind. His 
plays neither enlarge the mental horizon nor dilate 
the heart. Wilde was too self-centred an egoist 
ever to come into any real or vital relation with life. 
It was his primal distinction as artist to be con- 
sumed with a passionate love of art. It was his 
primal deficiency as artist to have no genuine sym- 
pathy with humanity. And although he imaged life 
with clearness, grace, and distinction, certain it is 
that he never saw life steadily, nor ever saw it 

Wilde called one of his plays The Importance 



of Being Earnest. In his inverted way, he aimed 
at teaching the world the importance of being friv- 
olous. Only from this standpoint is it possible to 
appreciate, in any real sense, Wilde, the comic dram- 
atist. Wilde is the arch enemy of boredom and 
ennui; we can always enjoy him as a purveyor of 
amusement and a killer of time. We are warned 
by his own confession against taking Wilde, 
as dramatist, too seriously. Nor should we take 
Wilde's own deliverances too seriously. " The 
plays are not great," he once confessed to Andre 
Gide. " I think nothing of them — but if you only 
knew how amusing they are 1 " And the author of 
The Decay of Lying added: " Most of them arc 
the results of bets I " 


''// was easy for Ruskin to lay down the rule 
of dying rather than doing unjustly^' but death is 
a plain thing: justice a very obscure thing. How 
is an ordinary man to draw the line between right 
and wrong otherwise than by accepting public opin- 
ion on the subject; and what more conclusive eX" 
pression of sincere public opinion can there be than 
market demand? Even when we repudiate that and 
fall hack on our private judgment, the matter 
gathers doubt instead of clearness. The popular 
notion of morality and piety is to simply beg all the 
most important questions in life for other people; 
hut when those questions come home to ourselves, 
we suddenly discover that the devil's advocate has a 
stronger case than we thought: we remember that 
the way of righteousness or death was the way of 
the Inquisition; that hell is paved, not with bad in^ 
tentions, but with good ones . . /' 

NoU OH Modern Prizefighting, appended to Cashel Byron's 
Profession (authorized edition), H. S. Stone k Co., Chicago, 190X. 


That modern Samuel Johnson, die late Benjamin 
Jowett, once spoke of Benjamin Disraeli as " a com- 
bination of the Arch-Priest of Humbug and a great 
man.'' Not otherwise has Bernard Shaw been 
freely characterized in this day and generation. 
The world-famed American showman, P. T. 
Bamum, built up a fortune upon the sweet and simple 
faith that the American people love to be " hum-/ 
bugged." In the minds of many, Bernard Shaw has 
become a world-author through the possession of a 
similar faith : that not America alone, but the whole 
world loves to be humbugged, f The public im- 
agination demands a best man everywhere,j[ Shaw 
once said; " and if Nature does not supply him the 
public invents him. The art of humbug is the art 
of getting invented in this way." According to die 
pontiffs of literature, a large part of Shaw's stock 
in trade consists in making himself '' a motley to the 
view." Interrogated once as to the reason for his 
eccentric conduct, Charles Baudelaire complacently 
replied, ''Pour etonner les sots" Were Bernard 
Shaw challenged for the reasons for his eccentricity, 
he would doubtless reply, " To astonish the wise." 



In a very literal sense does he subscribe to the Shak* 
sperean view: ** All the world's a stage, and men 
and women only players." In this day of persistent 
self-puffery, Bernard Shaw has deliberately chosen 
to stand in the limelight, to occupy the focus of the 
stage of the world. " In England as elsewhere the 
spontaneous recognition of really original work be- 
gins with a mere handful of people," he once said, 
'' and propagates itself so slowly that it has become 
a commonplace to say that genius, demanding bread, 
is given a stone after its possessor's death. The 
remedy for this is sedulous advertisement. Accord- 
ingly, I have advertised myself so well that I find 
myself, while still in middle life, almost as legendary 
a person as the Flying Dutchman." 


Even at the beginnmg of the twentieth century, 
much virtue still inheres in the statement that life 
has its realities behind its shows. Whoever would 
write the natural history of a literary phenomenon 
like Bernard Shaw must first disabuse his mind of 
the popular fantastic notions in regard to his life 
and personality. The legend of Saint Bernard 
fades into thin air before the plain recital of the life 
of Mr. Shaw. The year 1856, which witnessed the 
demise of the " first man of his century," Heinrich 
Heine, likewise witnessed the birth of the " laugh- 
"ying Ibsen," Bernard Shaw, in Dublin, Ireland, on 




July 26th. Cursed with an impecunious father, he 
was early apprenticed to a land agent in Dublin to 
be taught the meaning of thrift. Blessed with a 
mother of rare talent for music, he unconsciously 
acquired a knowledge and appreciation of music 
which was to play no insignificant role in his later 
life. Revolted by the social pretensions and preju- 
dices of his family, who " revolved impecuniously 
in a sort of vague second-cousinship round a bar- 
onetcy,'' he soon became animated with a Carlylean 
contempt for that type of snobbery denominated 
" respectability in its thousand gigs." He boasts 
of the fact that as a schoolboy he was incorrigibly 
idle and worthless, since the training of four schools 
he successively attended did him a great deal of harm 
and no good whatever. But it must not be sup- 
posed that his youthful years were barren in educa- 
tive influence. Parrot-like, he would whistle the 
oratorios and operatic scores he heard repeatedly 
practised at home by the musical society of which his 
mother was a leading figure — much as the street- 
gamin of to-day whistles the latest piece of ragtime 
music. Before he was fifteen, according to his own 
confession, he knew at least one important work by 
Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Rossini, 
Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Gounod, from cover 
to cover. -For hours at a time the lad of fifteen 
used to frequent the deserted halls of the National 
Gallery of Ireland; with his " spare change 'V he 



bought the volumes of the Bohn translations of 
Vasari, and learned to recognize the works of a 
considerable number of Italian and Flemish painters. 

It was the mature conviction of his later years 
that all the people he knew as a boy in Ireland were 
the worse for what they called their religion. On 
hearing the American evangelists, Moody and 
Sankey, the young sixteen-year-old Shaw was driven 
to protest in Public Opinion — his first appearance 
in print — that if this were Religion, then he must 
be an Atheist. Indeed, as he said a few years ago, 
" If religion is that which binds men to one an- 
other, and irreligion that which sunders, then must 
I testify that I found the religion of my country in 
its musical genius and its irreligion in its churches 
and drawing-rooms.'' 

\ tJnlike his colleagues in criticism of later years, 
William Archer and Arthur Bingham Walkley, 
graduates of Edinburgh and Oxford respectively, 
Bernard Shaw despised, half ignorantly, half pene- 
tratingly, the thought of a university education, for 
it seemed to him to turn out men who all thought 
alike gnd were snobs. 

He went into the land office, where he learned 
how to collect rents and to write a good hand. But 
although he retained his place solely for the sake 
of financial independence, his heart and brain were 
a thousand miles away. Finally his work grew un- 
bearably irksome to him, and in the year 1876 he 



deliberately walked out of the land office forever. 
Shortly afterwards, he joined his mother in London 

— the future theatre for the display of his unequal, 
if brilliant and versatile genius. 

During the following nine years, from 1876 to 
1885, Shaw turned his hand with only indifferent 
success to many undertakings, fit was not simply a 
crime, it was a blunder to have been an Irishman 

— and consequently an alien to everything genuinely 
English^ Shaw's unembarrassed frankness passed 
for outrageous prevarication, his cleverest jest for the 
most solemn earnest. Like Oscar Wilde, he learned 
the crippling disadvafltagC-JiLbeing_^ji^ Irishman of 
superior mentality , ever trifling in a world of ideas. 
Whatever he did met with failure ; his lightest plays 
of fancy were as unwelcome to the English public 
as were his heaviest efforts at blank verse, at criticism 
of music, at journalistic hack work. Through his 
acquaintance with Chichester Bell, of the family of 
that name, so celebrated for scientific invention and 
notable research, he became interested in physics 
and acquainted with the works of Tyndall and 
Helmholtz. He even worked for a time with a 
company formed in London to exploit an invention 
of the great American inventor, Thomas A. Edison. 
After various attempts, of which this was the last, 
to assist his parents by endeavoring to earn an honest 
living for himself, he finally gave up trying, he con- 
fesses, to commit this sin against his nature. It is 


true that his life was not without its diversions ; for 
his talent as a congenial accompanist on the piano 
assured his entree into a certain desirable circle of 
musical society in London; and the great library at 
Bloomsbury and the priceless picture galleries at 
Trafalgar Square and Hampton Court, certainly, 
were not lacking in a hospitality of which he gladly 
availed himself. 

During the five years from 1879 to 1884 inclu- 
sive, he devoted his energies ruthlessly to the pro- 
duction of five novels, one of them never published, 
which were to lead, if not to the immediate estab- 
lishment of literary position, certainly to the forma- 
tion of valuable friendships and acquaintances of 
lifelong standing. Aglain and again he sent forth 
his manuscripts; but they were invariably returned 
by the publishers. His iconoclasm, his freedom of 
thought and expression, his Ibsenic frankness in deal- 
ing with the gray, garish aspects of contemporary 
life, were in inverse ratio to the requirements of 
the conservative, unprogressive London publishers. 
Unwilling to sacrifice his art, resolved " to paint 
/ man man, whatever the issue," and determined not 
to disavow the principles at which he had arrived, 
he accepted the alternative — the temporary failure 
of his novels. 

To the Socialist revival of the 'eighties, the world 
owes the credit for the discovery of Bernard Shaw. 
In 1879, Shaw first met the late James Lecky, and 


acquired the grounding in Temperament, the fond- 
ness for Phonetics, and the early incentive to public 
speaking which have borne such abundant fruit in 
his later career. Through Lecky's influence, Shaw 
joined, and became a constant debater in, the Zeleti- 
cal Society, a debating club modelled on the once 
famed Dialectical Society. Here Shaw first met 
Sidney Webb, that able Socialist economist, and soon 
became his close friend and co-worker. Shaw sub- 
sequently joined the Dialectical Society and re- 
mained faithful to it for a number of years. From 
this time on, he evinced the greatest interest in public 
speaking, and persistently haunted public meetings 
of all sorts. One night, in 1883, he wandered into 
the Memorial Hall in Farrington Street; by chance 
the speaker was the great Single-Taxer, Henry 
George. For the first time did the importance of 
the economic basis dawn upon Shaw's mind. He 
left the meeting a changed man; and soon was de- 
vouring George's Progress and Poverty and Marx's 
Das Kapital with all the ardor of youth and burning 
social enthusiasm. While Shaw refused to sub- 
scribe to all the economic theories of Marx, and 
later victoriously re futed him on the question of 
the Theor y^of Value ^ he realized the overwhelming 
validity of the '* bible of the working classes " as a 
jeremiad against the bourgeoisie. During these 
days, he spoke early and often, at the street corner, 
on the curbstone, from the tail of a cart. He once 


said that he first caught the ear of the British public 
on a cart in Hyde Park, to the blaring of brass 
bands ! 

In practical conjunction with Sidney Webb, Gra- 
ham Wallas and Sidney Olivier, although they act- 
ually joined at different times, Shaw became a mem- 
ber of the Fabian Society after it had been in exist- 
ence only a short time. His connection with that 
society is a matter of history, and finds tangible 
evidence to-day, not only in books and pamphlets, 
but also in the actual Socialist and Labor repre- 
sentation in the London County Council and British 
parliament. Suffice it to say that, from the very 
first, his influence made itself most strongly felt 
upon the society, and for many years he has been 
the guiding spirit in its councils. Through the es- 
tablishment of certain Socialist journals during the 
'eighties, Shaw's novels began to find their way into 
print. An Unsocial Socialist and Cashel Byron^s 
Profession appeared in To-day, printed by Henry 
Hyde Champion, later by Belfort Bax and James 
Leigh Joynes, among others; The Irrational Knot 
and Love Among the Artists appeared in Our Cor- 
ner, published by the brilliant orator and Socialist 
agitator, Mrs. Annie Besant. They made no impres- 
sion upon the British public, but greatly pleased such 
men as William Archer, William Morris, Robert 
Louis Stevenson, and William E. Henley, who gave 
either public or personal expressions of their ap- 



preciation. From time to time in the last fifteen 
years they have been published in both England and 
America, with varying, but in general, with unusual 
success in this day of infinitesimally short-lived suc- 

From 1883 on, Shaw was daily coming in contact 
with the brilliant spirits of the younger generation 
in Socialism, and with the leaders in thought and 
opinion on the side of vegetarianism, humanitarian- 
ism and land nationalization. There were James 
Leigh Joynes, who had been arrested in Ireland 
with Henry George; Sidney Olivier, afterwards a 
distinguished author and now Governor of Jamaica ; 
Henry Hyde Champion, the well-known Socialist; 
Henry Salt, an Eton master, married to Joynes' 
sister; and Edward Carpenter, the greatest living 
disciple of Walt Whitman. After joining the Fa- 
bian Society, Shaw's constant associates were Hubert 
Bland, Graham Wallas, Sidney Olivier, and Sidney 
Webb ; and through his Socialist activities he became 
a friend of William Morris, who was never a 
Fabian, but who maintained an attitude of the 
broadest tolerance towards all the Socialist sects. In 
their early days the Fabians were as insurrectionary 
in principle aa the other Socialist bodies in London ; 
not until the election in 1885 did the line of cleavage 
between the Fabian Society and the Social Demo- 
cratic Federation clearly appear. At this time, the 
Fabian Society openly denounced the conduct of the 




Council of the Social-Democratic Federation in ac- 
cepting money from the Tory party in payment of 
the election expenses of Socialist candidates as cal- 
culated to disgrace the Socialist movement in Eng- 
land. In the following two years, the Fabian So- 
ciety took little or no part in the organization of 
insurrectionary projects in London; and finally, after 
many debates with that section of the Socialist 
League known as Anti-Communist, headed by Jo- 
seph Lane and William Morris, definitely discounte- 
nanced Kropotkinism among its members. Indeed, 
they finally demolished Anarchism in the abstract, 
as Shaw said, " by grinding it between human nature 
and the theory of economic rent." 

When Shaw first joined the Zcletical Society, he 
was the poorest of debaters; but he possessed the 
nerve to make a fool of himself. He practised 
platform oratory incessantly, haunted hole-and- 
corner debates of all sorts, and seized every op- 
portunity to make himself proficient in the art of 
public exhibition of his views. He joined the 
Hampstead Historic Club, and there learned the 
theories of Marx through the necessity of elucidat- 
ing them for his colleagues. He was one of a pri- 
vate circle of economists, which afterwards de- 
veloped into the British Economic Association; at 
these meetings the social question was ignored, and 
the discussions were conducted solely on an eco- 
nomic basis. In this way Shaw became thoroughly 


grounded In economic theory; and in this way also, 
he learned supremely well the art of public speak- 
ing. As a speaker, Shaw far excelled William 
Morris ; lacking the genius for oratory of a Charles 
Bradlaugh or an Annie Besant, he yet combined the 
imperturbability of a Sidney Webb with the wit of 
an Oscar Wilde. Ever on the alert, he is keen, 
incisive, and facile as a public speaker; he has every 
faculty about him when he mounts the platform. 
He combines the devastating wit of the Irishman ^ 
with the penetrating logic of the Frenchman. He 
gave hundreds of lectures and addresses, *and fre- 
quently debated in public in London and the 
pro\ances, for many years; and always at his own 
expense — fop.the^Cause. His speech is always a 
challenge, p Call me disagreeable, only call me 
something," ' he vigorously clamors ; " for then I 
have roused you from your vStupid torpor and made ^ 
ypu think a new thought I '\ _ /. y 

(Jn principle and in practice, Shaw is a strictly ^j 
constitutional Socialist; he has no faith in revolu- | 
tionary measures, save as the very last resort against ( 
direst tyranny/ Inspired by Philip Wicksteed's at- 
tack on Marx's Theory of Value, Shaw devoted a 
great deal of time to the study of the economic 
theories of the late Stanley Jevons; and with the 
aid of the Jevonian machinery exposed the fallacies 
in the Marxian Theory of Value. 

Furthermore, he denied the existence of what is 





called the war of classes ;uie did everything possible 
to reduce Socialism to an intellectual rather than to 
an emotional basis, to envisage it as a product of 
economic factors rather than of insurrectionismt^ 
His position is admirably summed up in the follow- 
ing passage : 

" The Fabian declares quite simply that there is 
no revolution, that there exists no war of classes, 
that the salaried workers are far more imbued with 
conventions and prejudices and more bourgeois than 
the middle class itself; that there is not a single 
legal power democratically constituted, without ex- 
cepting the House of Commons, which would not be 
much more progressive were it not restrained by the 
fear of the popular vote; that Karl Marx is no 
more infallible than Aristotle or Bacon, Ricardo or 
Buckle, and that, like them, he has committed errors 
now obvious to the casual student of economics; that 
a declared Socialist is, morally, neither better nor 
worse than a liberal or a conservative, nor a work- 
man than a capitalist; that the workman can change 
the actual governmental system if he so desires, 
while the capitalist cannot do so, because the work- 
man would not permit him ; that it is an absurd con- 
tradiction in terms to declare that the working 
classes are starved, impoverished and kept in igno- 
rance by a system which loads the capitalist with 
food, education, and refinement} of all sorts, and at 
the same time to pretend that the capitalist is a 


scoundrel, harsh and sordid in spirit, while the work- 
man is a high-minded, enlightened and magnanimous 
philanthropist; that Socialism will eventuate in the 
gradual establishment of public rule and a public ad- 
ministration set into effective action by parliaments, 
assemblies and common councils; and that none of 
these rules will lead to revolution nor occupy more 
place in the political programme of the time than a 
law for the £egBla|ion of manufactures or the ballot 
would do i^ow: in a word, that the part of the So- 
cialist will be a definitely fixed political labor, to 
struggle not against the malevolent machinations of 
the cap^alist, but against the stupidity, narrowness, 
in a w3rd, the idiocy (in giving to the word its pre- 
cise and original sense) of the class which actually 
suffers most from the existing system." ^ 

Bernard Shaw resumed his literary labors rather 
late in the 'eighties, and has been diligent as a man 
of letters ever since. Indeed, his is an unusually 
checkered career, since he has, at one time or an- 
other, dipped into almost every phase of authorship. 
For a time, through the kind offices of Mr. William 
Archer, Shaw was enabled to write criticisms of 
books and pictures in The World; and at times also 
he wrote for the Pall Mall Gazette and Truth. In 
1888, Shaw joined the editorial staff of The Star 
on the second day of its existence; but his Socialist 

^Les Illusions du Socialisme, by Bernard Shaw; UHumaniti 
N^uvilU, August, 190a 


utterances so alarmed the editor, the brilliant wit, T. 
P. O'Connor, that Shaw was given a column to fill 
with comments on current music — a subject harm- 
less from the political point of view at least. Here 
Shaw gave free vent to his eccentricity, and the 
paper fairly blazed with his jests and hardies ses, his 
follies and foibles, his quips and cranks. Dissem- 
bling his wide knowledge of music, especially 
modern music, by means of an air of irresponsible 
levity and outrageous flippancy, he gave no ground 
for suspicion of the existence in these delightful sallies 
of a solid substratum of genuine criticism. As 
" Corno di Bassettb," he vied with his colleague, A. 
B. Walkley, the dramatic critic for The 'Star, in 
furnishing rare entertainment for the readers of that 
first of London half-penny papers. 

When Louis Engel resigned his position as 
musical critic on the staff of The World, the post 
fittingly fell to Bernard Shaw, who for long had 
slowly been saturating himself in the best music 
from Mozart to Wagner, from London to Bayreuth. 
Until now, he had made no stir in the world of 
letters — few people knew who " C. di B." really 
was. But as a successor of Louis Engel, he entered 
into his new duties with zeal and zest, and created 
a new standard for The World by his brilliant and 
witty critiques. ** Every man has an inalienable 
right to make a fool of himself," Victor Hugo once 
wrote; " but he should not abuse that right." Bcr- 


nard Shaw stopped just short of abuse of his inalien- 
able right. Like a street fakir, he announced the 
value of his wares with sublime audacity. He 
adopted the haughty tone of superiority of a Wilde 
or a Whistler, although he did it always not only in 
the wittiest but also in the most good-natured way 
imaginable. The oculist who once examined his 
eyes seems to have been the unwitting cause of first 
diverting the rewards of literature in his direction. 
The ophthalmic specialist declared that Shaw's vision 
was " normal,** at the same time explaining that 
the vision of nine-tenths of the people in the world is 
abnormal. Shaw at once leaped to the conclusion 
that his intellectual as well as his physical vision 
was normal, while that of the *' damned compact, 
liberal majority " was aberrant, myopic, astygmatic. 
Too conscientious to put on a pair of abnormal 
spectacles and aberr his vision to suit the taste of 
the astygmatic nine-tenths of the reading public, too 
poor to attempt transcripts of life in order to win 
the support of the one-tenth which, because of nor- 
mal vision, was therefore as impecunious as him- 
self, he turned critic and appeared before the British 
public as Punch. He had only to open his eyes 
and describe things exactly as they appeared to him, 
to become known as the most humorously extrava- 
gant paradoxer in London. He succeeded In 
demonstrating once again the old, old proposition 
that truth is stranger than fiction. 


After a while the exuberant " G. B. S.," as he 
signed himself in The World, set but in search of 
new fields to conquer. When Mr. Frank Harris 
— who possessed the virtues, as well as some of 
the faults, of Mr. Edmund Yates — revived The 
Saturday Review, Shaw was chosen as dramatic 
critic. He at once characteristically broke the sa- 
cred tradition of anonymity, till then — 1895 — 
inviolate in its columns. In earlier years, Shaw had 
often spoken to deaf ears; for his was the strange 
language of a Robertson, a Gilbert, a Wilde. In 
all that he wrote there was that contradictoriness be- 
tween letter and spirit, so characteristic of the Celtic 
genius. Everything struck his mind at such an 
acute angle as to give forth prismatic refractions of 
dazzling and many-hued brilliancy. His first great 
period began as critic on The World, when he 
zealously lauded Wagner, daringly defied the aca- 
demic school of British music, and gaily set himself 
up as the infallible critic of the musical world. And 
now asj dramatic critic on The Saturday Review, he 
achieve^ in a few years the reputation of the most 
brilliant journalistic writer in England. 

Like Taine, he realized the important truth that 
those things we agree to call abnormal, are in 
reality normal, and appear quite naturally in the 
ordinary course of events. Accordingly, he devised 
a well-known formula for readable journalism: 


'' Spare no labor to find out the right thing to say; 
and then say it with the most exasperating levity, as 
if it were the first thing that would come into any 
one's head." He expressed the belief that good 
journalism is much rarer and more important than 
good literature; and by his own rare and unique 
work he gave a practical proof of the truth of his 
conviction. He led a magnificent crusade in behalf 
of Ibsen and in defiance of Shakspere. If, on the 
one hand, he praised Ibsen to the skies for the 
intellectual content of his plays, on the other hand 
he upbraided Shakspere for his lamentable poverty 
in the matter of philosophy. If he saw in Ibsen a 
disheartened optimist disagreeably intent upon im« 
proving the world, he saw in Shakspere a vulgar. 
pessimist, with vanitas vanitaum eternally upon his 
lips. If Ibsen not infrequently jarred his sensibili- 
ties with the ultra-realism of his clinical demonstra- 
tions, Shakspere gave him unfeigned pleasure by the 
music of his language — his " word-music " as it has 
been called — his delightful fancy, his large per- 
ception of the comic, and his incomparable art as a 
story-teller. When Shaw finished his dramatic ca- 
reer, he had the gratification of the knowledge that 
while Ibsen was not popular on the English stage, 
he was nevertheless recognized by the highest au- 
thorities as the greatest of living dramatists. And 
he boasted on severing his connection with The 




Saturday Review, that whereas, when he began his 
work as a dramatic critic, Shakspere was a divinity 
and a bore, now he was at least a fellow-creature ! 

At last, in 1898^ he severed his connection with 
The Saturday Review and became a dramatist by 
profession. He had, by dogmatic assertions, itera- 
tion and reiteration of his merits as wit, raconteur 
and paradoxer, so he declares, actually succeeded in 
establishing his lUerary prestige for all time. He 
might dodder and dote, platitudinize and pot-boil; 
but, once convinced, the dull but honest British in,- 
te Uigence_c ould not be shalceiT He had become the 
jester at the court of King Demo s — the confessor 
of the sovereign public. And that public rewarded 
him at last with eager appreciation of all his sallies 
and bon mots. 


As a comic dramatist, Shaw has always won the 
joyous appreciation of his auditors, never the intel- 
lectual perception of the critic. No general grasp 
of his originality and essentially novel dramatic 
technique, as Ibsen, as Maeterlinck, are understood, 
has yet been achieved by the English-speaking public. 
This, it cannot too decisively be asserted, is due, not 
to the failure of the public to appreciate his dramas, 
but to the slovenliness of dramatic criticism in per- 
ceiving the genuine technical novelty of his dramatic 
form. Even this decisive statement must be modi- 


fied by the admission that Shaw, with his passion 
for comical mystification, has taken a certain sort 
of impish delight In averring that he is really a con- 
servative in technique, following in the beaten path 
of classic dramatic tradition. '''I find that the 
surest way to startle the world with daring innova- 
tions and originalities,'' he has said more than once, 
"is to do exactly what playwrights have been doing 
for thousands of years ; to revive the ancient attrac- 
tion of long rhetorical speeches; to stick closely to 
the methods of Moliere; and to lift characters bodily 
out of the pages of Charles Dickens/' 

There are twp fundamental ideas, consistently 
held and strenuously maintained by Shaw, which, 
rightly understood, effectually shatter the super- 
ficial theory that he is an artistic mountebank, ex- 
ploiting thejLheatre as an instrumentality for. shal- 
low ends. I Back of all surface manifestations lies 
the supreme conviction of Shaw that the theatre of 
to-day, properly utilized, is an instrumentality for 
the molding of character and the shaping of con- 
duct no whit inferior to the Church and the School. 
Indeed, the modern Church seems to be losing its 
hold upon the great masses of the people through 
its divorce from the central realities of practical 
living, the insincerity of ministers in veiling from 
the congregation the theological doubts aroused by 
the " higher criticism " which they dare not express, 
the circular monotony of the Scriptural exegesis 


which stands forever in the way of forthright dis- 
cussion of the fortifying realities and possibilities of 
sheer living. The university of to-day, in many 
cases, far from being a pioneer in the advancement 
of the frontier of art, staggering, strange, forward- 
looking, remains the citadel of conservatism, the 
stronghold of literary " stand-pattism," turning its 
eyes ceaselessly backward upon the acknowledged 
literary masterpieces — these and these only — and 
timidly shrinking from the bold task of assaying the 
literary gold^of the future. 

/ In t5e spirit of the ancient Greeks, Shaw sees in 
I the theatre of to-day an infinitely powerful instru- 
I mentality for popular education and social instruc- 
tion. Indeed, the theatre may even go further, and 
/ by popularizing great sociological, philosophical and 
/ religious ideas, exercise an almost incalculable effect 
I upon the social morals of a whole people. It is 
y Shaw's basic conviction that the theatre of the future 
\is in the hands of the sociological dramatist who 
I may, if he but will, make it as important a social 
( institution as was the Church in the Middle Ages. 
In so eminently sane a social worker as Jane Addams 
he has won support for his belief that the theatre 
of to-day exercises a greater influence in forming ac- 
cepted codes of morals than does the Church, be- 
cause, as Miss Addams puts it, the Church is so 
" reluctant to admit conduct to be the supreme and 
efficient test of religious validity." The theatre is 


a school of manners, of morals, both Individual and 
social, exercising an influence that is none the less 
powerful in that it is indirect. Indeed, the subtle 
force of the comedies of Shaw is heightened 
through the enjoyment which they give. The bitter 
pill of the moralist is coated with the sugar 
of the artist. Shaw does actually continue the 
classic tradition of Moliere who said that a comedy 
is nothing less than an ingenious poem which, in 
agreeable lessons, portrays human weaknesses. 
There is the deeper note in Shaw. He surpasses 
Moliere as a moralist, because Moliere was a censor 
of individual vices whilst(^iShaw is a censor of the 
sociological evils arising from the structural defects 
of modern society and modern civilization.) ' 
/ ^* The apostolic succession from Eschylus to my- 
self," Shaw has irreverently said, " is as serious and 
as continuously inspired as that younger institution, 
the apostolic succession of the Christian Church. 
Unfortunately this Christian Church, founded gaily 
with a pun, has been so largely corrupted by rank 
Satanism that it has become the Church where you 
must not laugh; and so it is giving away to that 
older and greater Church to which I belong: the 
Church where the oftener you laugh the better, be- 
cause by laughter only can you destroy evil without 
malice, and affirm good-fellowship without mawk- 
ishness." The remarkable popular attention which 
Shaw won as a dramatic critic was due in great 


measure not only to his trenchant satire but also to 
the sincerity of his faith in the mission of the 
theatre. He not only took the theatre seriously; he 
actually preached about it as a " factory of thought, 
a prompter of conscience, an elucidator of social 
conduct, an armoury against despair and dullness, 
and a temple of the Ascent of Man." 

The Shaw who speaks of the " apostolic succes- 
sion from Eschylus to myself " is giving expression 
to the^second fundamental conviction of his nature* 
With the" intimate knowledge of his character de- 
rived during the years devoted to the infinitely com- 
plex task of writing his biography, I am convinced 
Shaw firmly believes in " inspiration '* — in artistic 
inspiration no less than in spiritual inspiration. 
This view, which I have often heard him express 
privately, he has recently expounded at length, in 
answer to the request of the Modern Historic 
Record Association to " define the principles that 
govern the dramatist in his selection of themes and 
methods of treatment." So illuminating is that 
reply, so characteristic at once of the man, the 
dramatist, and the economist, that I quote it here in 
full : 

" I am not governed by principles; I am inspired; 
how or why I cannot explain because I do not know. 
But inspiration it must be ; for it comes to me with- 
out any reference to my own ends or interests. 

^^ I find myself possessed of a theme in the fol* 


lowing manner. I am pushed by a natural need to 
set to work to write down conversations that come 
into my head unaccountably. At first I hardly know 
the speakers, and cannot find names for them. Then 
they become more and more familiar; and I learn 
their names. Finally I come to know them very 
well, and discover what it is they are driving at and 
why they have said and done the things I have been 
moved to set down. 

** This is not being * guided by principles * ; it is 
hallucination; and sane hallucination is what we call 
play or drama. ... I do not select my methods: 
they are imposed on me by a hundred considera- 
tions: by the physical conditions of theatric repre- 
sentation, by the laws devised by the municipality 
to guard against fires and other accidents to which 
theatres are liable, by the economic conditions of 
theatrical commerce, by the nature and limits of the 
art of acting, by the capacity of the spectators for 
understanding what they see and hear, and by the 
accidental circumstances of the particular production 
in hand. 

** I have to think of my pocket, of the manager's 
pocket, of the actors' pockets, of the spectators' 
pockets, of how long people can be kept sitting in 
a theatre without relief or refreshments, of the 
range of the performer's voice and of the hearing 
and vision of the boy at the back of the gallery, 
whose right to be put in full possession of the play 


Is as sacred as that of the millionaire in the stalls 
or boxes. 

** I have to consider theatre rents, the rate of in- 
terest needed to tempt capitalists to face the risks 
of financing theatres, the extent to which the magic 
of art can break through commercial prudence, the 
limits set by honor and humanity to the tasks I may 
set to my fellow-artist the actor: in short, all the 
factors that must be allowed for before the repre- 
sentation of a play on the stage becomes practicable 
or justifiable; factors which some never compre- 
hend, and which others integrate almost as uncon- 
sciously as they breathe or digest their food. 

" It is these factors that dictate the playwright's 
methods, leaving him so little room for selection 
that there is not a pennyworth o' difference between 
the methods of Sophocles or Shakspere and those 
of the maker of the most ephemeral farce. 

" And withal, when the play is made, the writer 
must feed himself and his family by It. Indeed, 
there are men and woman who are forced by this 
necessity to simulate Inspiration, repeating its ges- 
tures and copying its tricks so as to produce arti- 
ficial plays: constructed things with no true life in 
them, yet sometimes more amusing than real plays, 
just as a clockwork mouse Is more amusing than a 
real mouse, though It will kill the cat who swallows 
it In good faith ..." 



One of the most oddly significant commentaries 
upon the Anglo-Saxon indifference to the great ideas 
of the century whenever they are concretized into 
the form of actable drama, is furnished by the amaz- 
ing unanimity, on the part of dramatic critics in 
both England and America, in denying the actual 
existence of such an entity as the Shavian philosophy. 
So irreparably is the average theatrical newsman, 
by courtesy dubbed Dramatic Critic, divorced from 
the real life of philosophy, ethics, politics, and soci- 
ology ; so hopelessly is his critical perception warped 
by the romantic conventions, senescent models, and 
classic traditions of the stage, so entirely does he 
breathe the air of box-office receipts, shine in the 
reflected halo of " stars," or dwell in the unreal at- 
mosphere of stage human nature, that when the new 
truths of a new philosophy present themselves to 
his judgment, his power to recognize them as valu- 
able or even as truths, is irretrievably lost. And if 
perchance the dramatist, accepting as a mere rhe- 
torical question Horace's " Quamquam ridentem di- 
cere verum quid vetat?", possesses the genius and 
the hardihood to embody his profoundly serious 
views of life in brilliantly witty and epigrammatic 
expression, let him beware of the penalty of being 
regarded as a frivolous and light-headed near-philos- 
opher I 


Stranger still, one might even venture to say al- 
most remarkable, is the attitude of some of the 
leading English and American dramatic critics, who 
happen to be men of the world in the large sense, 
thoroughly cosmopolitan in spirit Mr. Walkley is 
quite willing to admit that Bernard Shaw has let in 
a fresh current of ideas upon the English drama; 
and yet, in that airy manner of his with which he 
brushes aside, but does not dispose of, real prob- 
lems, he nonchalantly dubs those ideas the loose 
ends of rather questionable German philosophy. 
There seems little reason to doubt that Mr. Archer 
was quite sincere in his expressed belief that Ber- 
nard Shaw's philosophy may be picked up at any 
second-hand bookstall. Mr. Huneker is by no 
means unique in the ppinignTHat Shaw's^HraniStifr 
characters .are mer^ mputhpi cceV For IthfTTdeaTCQ f 
Schopenhauer, Nietzsche^, and- Ibsen. 

*Tt might be imagined that the verdict of Conti- 
nental Europe, where so many of the most modem 
conceptions, most vitally f ecun4 ideas, originat^e and 
flourish, would carry with it some weight of au- 
thority. America inaugurated Shaw's world-renown 
by recognizing in him a brilliant and witty person- 
age who succeeded in entertaining the public through 
Nthe adventitious medium of the stage. It was not 
until Shaw's plays swept from one end of Europe to 
the other that Shaw came to be recognized abroad 
as a man of ideas rather than a mere ^' theatre- 


poet"; indeed, as a genius of penetrative insight 
and philosophic depth. Forced by the example of 
America and Europe to recognize in Shaw a dra- 
matist of Continental calibre and range, England at 
last accorded to Shaw, the dramatist, the acknowledg- 
ment so long and so discreditably overdue. Never- 
theless, the English dramatic critics still continued to 
refer Shaw's philosophy to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, 
Ibsen, and Strindberg, " knowing nothing about 
them," as Mr. Shaw once remarked to me, " except 
that their opinions, like mine, are not those of The 
Times or The Spectator/' 

It is no less diverting to discover in European 
critics an equal crassness of imagination in their 
judgments of Shaw's temperament, his donnee, and 
his ausschauung. AVhat a chimerical picture is this 
painted by Regis Michaud : " Feet on the earth 
and head in the clouds, surrendering himself to the 
pleasure of discussing the most poignant problems, 
turning them, now this way, now that, to his gaze; 
confounding on every hand, to render them the 
more interesting, the social question and the woman 
question; then, suddenly, as if so much reality bore 
heavily upon him, after having given in his revolu- 
tionary catechism the quintessence of his paradoxes, 
free of all system, vanishing into Utopia — such is 
Bernard Shaw, the philosopher." Whilst acknowl- 
edging Shaw's precious gifts — his facile, natural and 
brilliant dialogue, his faculty of painting human fig- 


ures in which observation and invention collaborate 
in equal measure — Augustin Filon lamely con- 
cludes : " Bernard Shaw would be a great dra- 
matic author, perhaps, if only his plays were — 
plays I " It jgas left for Maurice Muret to find in 
S haw a th niifyl ]<-fnl ronservator of soc j,^| ^^A r eligious 
custoi]cu.,4nd tojpvQXiQuncs^CandidM a fardy> but bril- 
liant, revenge of the traditional ideal on the new 
ideal — " the victory of la femme, selon Titien over 
the Scandinavian virago, this triumph of Candida 
over Nora " I Gaston Rageot makes the brilliant 
discovery that Shaw functions under the influence of 
Tolstoi — Tolstoi whose pet objurgation is the 
Superman and the Gospel of Power I The German, 
Heinrich Stiimcke, declares that nil admirari is the 
quintessence of Shaw — S haw, whose life is spent in 
irooIcJaug htcr of colossal wondermenTat ttiis^ entire 
demented, moonstruck world 1 ""'^^Ehg JDane, Geor^ 
Brandes, made the curiously provincial mistake of 
attributing to the influence of Ibsen the social discon- 
tent of Bernard Shaw who had been a vigorous So- 
cialist propagandist fat-.£vc. years before he ever 
heardjxjL IbsenT Whilst the Italian,""Klario Borsa, 
at tlie topmost pitch of fatuity finds a rationalist -pur 
et simple xii- Shaw — this Shaw who persists in re- 
garding the reign of reason as vieux jeu, and has 
declared again and again that man will always re- 
main enslaved so long as he listens to the voice of 
reason I 


While critics here and critics there have busied 
themselves, either in discovering in Shaw qualities 
he scorns to possess or else in indulging in elaborate 
analyses of his incidental traits, the two or three 
signal features which in themselves tend to explain 
fiis temperament, and in a word to define his art, re- 
main utterly disengaged and obscure. The prime 
fa.ct whic hstamp s Shaw'^ -artinto close correspond- 
ence wit^Tll£js the fundamental note of 
sionment which is^strn ck fcaxfc sslv an d unfailigg lv 
througE^tJthejentire range of his work. Just as all f 
life is an evolutionary process, and all progress fol- 
lows vision clarified through the falling of the scales 
from the eyes of the brain, so Shaw's drama is an 
ordered sequence of pictured incidents in which pit- 
falls are uncovered, illusions unmasked, and vital 
secrets displayed. A profound student of human 
existence through actual contact with many diverse 
forms of life as it is actually lived to-day, and a 
philosopher as well, with a powerful imaginative 
grasp of social and sociological forms, Shaw sees 
that progress is possible only through the persistent 
discovery of mistaken conceptions of life and of so- 
ciety. If, as philosophers affirm, error is only im- 
perfect knowledge, then the discovery of vital truth 
eventuates through that disillusioning process by 
which, in some psychologically crucial instance or 
dramatically potent conjuncture, we discover that 
our ideals, our conventions, our social laws and our 


religious conceptions are inadequate either to meet 
the facts or to solve the problems of life. Shaw is 
so deeply impressed with the predominance of hu- 
man activity which consists in the pursuits of illu- 
sions that he does not hesitate to denominate it the 
greatest force in the world. All the more reason, 
then — since the majority of men are so constituted 
that reality repels, while illusions attract them — 
that the most succinct, most crystalline, most ener- 
getic art be employed in combating this predominant 
and pervasive force. It is notagainst the optimistic 
and progressive illusions, those indispensable modes 
of cloaking reality which possess the power to awake 
man's helpful interest and to inspire his best efforts, 
that Shaw directs his batteries of iron y, of sat ire 
and oF wit. ^^Dedlcated tb'^Socialism, he ifreely'aS- 
rnifs^foTfe indispensable the transparent illusion of 
the Socialist, who always sees Labor as a martyr 
crucified between the two thieves of Capital, and 
who maintains his enthusiasm at fever-heat by the 
consciousness that the laborer is always a model of 
thrift and sobriety, while the capitalist is a tyrant, 
an assassin, and a scoundrel I Were Socialis m nam- 
peUed^ to stand. jor- i^l upflftj^ 
bility oflts economic structure alone, instead 51 
upon its Jliusive appeal to thTpassldn7>f^Iumanl^ 
f oiL^acaiiseAl wfth _t 

impendingrevolution, its fate wouldlhdubltabiy-be 


A^It IS against those Individual and social illusions A 
treacherous, ensnaring, destructive — prejudices, 
conventions, traditions, theological incrustations, so- 
cial petrifactions — that Shaw brings to bear all the 
force of his trenchant and sagacious intellect. 
He sees the individual involved in the social com- 
plex, and powerless, as an individual, to remedy his 
lot He sees in money the basis of modern society, 
and attributes the slavery of the workers and of the 
women to the omnipotence of capitalized wealtjjr-^ 
Modern society represents that phase in social evo- 
lution which history will classify as the age of the 
exploitation of man by man. Social determinism 
is the most tragic fact of contemporary life; and in- 
dividual liberty, in most cases, amounts to little more 
than a political fiction. Woman, in marriage, is still 
the slave of man ; and romance is only the pleasing 
illusion which masks the relentless functioning of 
the Life Force. Laugh as sardonically as we may, 
we (Cannot blink the fact that Trench is powerless to 
resist the Sartorius Idea, that Mrs. Warren is the 
victim of social extremity rather than the instrument 
of sexual passion, that Julia is the slave of a social 
convention. T Barbara refuses longer to be the dupe 1/ 
of subsidized religion; Tanner is strong-minded 
enough for self-contempt in the disillusioning dis« 
covery of that "vital lie," romance; and Candida 
clarifies the preference of " natural instinct " to 
" duty " as a guide to conduct. • Shaw's characters, 


/whether involved in social labyrinths or confused by 
conventional dogmas, break through to the light by 
discovering their false allegiance to some stupid cur- 
rent fiction or some baseless fabric of cheap ro- 
mance. Gloria's armor of " Twentieth Century 
Education " crumples up before the simple attacks 
of natural impulse; Judith Anderson's la rmoya nt 
sentiment is dashed by the Nietzschean frankness of 
Dick Dudgeon; and Brassbound recoils from him- 
self in disgust in the realization of the romantic 
puerility of his twopence colored ideas of revenge- 
Shaw has freed himself from the illusions of pa- 
triotism and fidelity to English social forms; and 
he boasts that he is a '' good European " in the 
Nietzschean sense — the true cosmopolitan in ideas. 
Like Maurice Barres and Max Stirner, he is a fear- 
less champion of the Ego; an d his realism, lik e that 
of Ibsen and "of Stendhal; is the realism of the disil- 

Jusionist _ -^ • -..^ 

X is^ithe custom of those who disagree with Shaw 
to point out that his brilliant and logical demonstra- 
tions of abuses and illusions, if traced back step by 
step to their origin, will bring us merely to some 
perverse idiosyncrasy of this wayward Irishman. 
In short, as Mr. Walkley is only too ready to indi- 
cate, Shaw is a pure naif, falling into line with the 
more engaging ndifs of imaginative literature. " He 
is as naturally benevolent as Mr. Pickwick, and as 
explosively indignant in what he considers a just 


cause as Colonel Newcome. With Uncle Toby he 
conducts a whole, plan of campaign on a quiet 
bowling green, and with Don Quixote tilts at wind- 
mills. He is as disputatious (though not so learned) 
as the Abbe Coignard, and when in the vein can 
borrow the philosophic at arajc v of Professor Bcr- 
geret" This method of disposing of Shaw on the 
ground that he is a thoroughly good fellow, pas- 
sionately but perversely championing futile causes 
which he mistakenly regards as just and right, has 
all the virtue of cleverness without the necessary 
modicum of accuracy. The solid achievements of 
Shaw's own career are the silent refutation of the 
bons mots of the dilettante; and his international 
fame rests, in chief measure, upon his generally rec- 
ognized power to exhibit facts inaJL^thdl^^ 
reality. The remarKable unity of his icjeas despite 
their superficial aspect of cpntranety^ . hig. mevitiible 
trait of applybg^the standards ol his well-defined 
philosophy to all facts, stamp him as a genuine.phil- 
osopKerT'^ncerned with the unities of the world 
rather than with its diversities. Our greatest 
American philosopher, William James, once said to 
me : " To me, Shaw's great service is the way he 
brings home to the eyes, as it were, the differencei 
"Betw^Sr^oTiveritron"^ an and the way 

he shows that you can tell the truth successfully if 
you will only keep benignant enough while doing it." 
If It be true that Shaw appears essentially simple and 



serious in mind and character, it is because, as Jean 
Blum has acutely pointed out, he has succeeded in 
freeing his mind from all contemporary prejudice, 
has acquired the illimitable receptivity of the child, 
and has effected the transition to that second state 
of innocence out of which proceed real art and sim- 
ple truth. It is in this sense, indeed, that Shaw is a 
genuine naif. Just as disillusionment is the defining 
quality of his art, naivete is Hj^deffning'quality-^f 
his rfcmperament Far be it from me, wno have 
revettedTn many a quaint recital from his lips, to 
deny his oddity, his idiosyncrasy, his naive charm. 
Nor would I even balk at the statement that he loves, 
for the sake of staggering his auditor, to proceed 
logically to a conclusion from a highly questionable 
premise. This is a quality of all highly imaginative 
temperaments; and in Shaw's case, is thrown into 
high relief by the brilliance and facility of his logical 
process. It Is a casual fault, not a defining quality, 
of his art; and at the same time constitutes one of 
the very real charms of his personality. Someone 
has denominated Shaw a liter ary Petcr.,Ean — a boy 
who has never grown up in literature. This Is a 
peculiarly pertinent characterization of one who finds 
an " indescribable levity — something spritelike — 
about the final truth of the matter "; and who once 
said: "It Is the half-truth which Is congruous, 
heavy, serious, and suggestive of a middle-aged or 
elderly philosopher. The whole truth is often the 



first thing that comes into the head of a fool or a 
child; and when a wise man forces his way to it 
through the many strata of his sophistications, its 
wanton, perverse air reassures instead of frighten- 
ing him." Shaw.iV a literary Peter Pan; and he 
takes the characterization as a very great compli- 
ment. " There was a time," Shaw once said, 
" when I was a grown-up man — more grown-up 
than anybody else. I was about eighteen at the 
time." But he added: "It was not until I be- 
came like Peter Pan that I was really worth any- 

Bernard Shaw is primarily, as I have pointed 
out, a disillusionizing force, achieving his purpose 
in great measure through the re-discovery of that 
state of incarnate innocence from which stem great 
works of art. Moreover, he frankly claims the 
theatre, as Zola claimed the novel, for didactic pur- 
poses; and makes so bold as to declare that the 
man who believes in art for art's sake is " a fool, a 
hopeless fool, and in a state of damnation." In hi s 
conception, art should be employed for social, po- 

liticalj^liioral and religious eridsr Art is one of the 
greatest instrumentalities in the world for teaching 
people to see and hear properly. " When I write 
dramas," Shaw recently confessed, " what I really 
do is to take the events of life out of the irrelevant, 
and show them in their spiritual and actual relation 
to each other. I have to connect them by chains of 


reasoning, and to make bridges of feeling." When 
M. Charles Chasse complained that Shaw's ideas 
were so contradictory that he could construct no sat- 
isfactory synthesis of his philosophy, Shaw replied: 
"How French to wish to stick everything into 
pigeonholes ! You find contradictions in my philos- 
ophy ? Very well — are there not contradictions in 
life? I have expressed my ideas in groups on cer- 
tain subjects in my different works. Ask no more 
of me.*' M. Firmin Roz recently declared that 
Shaw has ideas, but that he does not let them harden 
and crystallize into*a system: ''II les jette dans la 
vie ou elles doivent vivre elles-memes comme des 
ferments actifs." The apparent contrariety of ideas 
in Shaw's works is one of the eleSreiSfs thattenS, 
not only to prevent comprehension o f his purpos e, 
but even to prompt 8u$piciQa..Qij06te ,sen^ ,af 
his purpose. The other element springs from the 
popular notion that wit and seriousness are two mu- 
tually contradictory entities. The really inspired 
man, in Shaw's opinion, is the man who brings you 
to see that there are certain delusions you must sur- 
render; that there are certain steps forward that 
must be taken. Progress involves not only the sac- 
rifice of certain obligations, but also the assumption 
of other obligations. But let the serious reformer 
dare to express his ideas in witty and paradoxical 
form, and he must answer the charge, not simply of 
being disagreeable, but also of being frivolous. The 



Anglo-Saxon, as M. Auguste Hamon maintains, is 
racially incapable of intellectual virtuosity; and so 
is '^ unable to understand the finesse and the height 
of view of an ironical tale of Voltaire, a philosophic 
drama by Renan, or a novel by Anatole France." 
Had Shaw not given the pill of the " paper-apostle '* 
in the jam of the " artist-magician," perhaps the 
public would not have endorsed his message. Shaw 
has always maintained that if he had told the Eng- 
lisI\jpeople the plain truth, ujavarnished and un- / 
adorned, jig would have been, huxned at. the .stake I ' 
AtiTtieTmojC^ reason^^thenj^ for prizing the wit^jJic 

injbell€^tH«l-wrtuQS.Q.^. Stevenson says somewhere: 
" No art, it may be said, was ever perfect and not^ 
m^ny noble, that has not been mirthfully conceived.7 
, rBernard Shaw is the most versatile and cosmopol- 
itan genius in the drama of ideas that Great Britain 
has yet produced. No juster or more significant 
characterization can be made of this man than that 
he is a penetrating and astute critic of contemporary 
civilization. He is typical of this disquieting cen- 
tury — with its intellectual brilliancy, its staggering 
naivete, its ironic nonsense, its devouring scepticism, 
its profound social and religious unrest. The re- 
lentless thinking, the large perception of the comic 
which stamp this man, are interpenetrated with the 
ironic consciousness of the twentieth century. The 
not^ of his art is capitally moralistic; and he tem- 

M^m^ m i** *■ l uiii < 


pera^thebi ttemess of thft rl'f'Uvyio^^^fu^^''^^^^ the 
effervescent appetizer of hisJililUant wit. TRs* phi- 
losophy is the consistent integration of its empirical 
criticisms of modern society and lU present or- 
ganization, founded on authority und based upon 
capitalism. A true mystic, he sees in life, not the 
jfulfilment of moral laws, or the verification of the 
(deductions of reason, but the satisfaction of a pas- 
sion in us of which we can give no account. — ' 
if Evolution, in Shaw's view, is ncJt a materialistic, 
"^ tmt a mystical theory; and, after Lamarck and 
Samuel Butler, he understands evolution, not as the 
senseless raging of blind mechanical forces with an 
amazing simulation of design, but as the struggle 
of a creative Will or Purpose, which he calls the 
Life Force, towards higher forms of life. Social- 
ism is the alpha and omega of his life. He believes 
in will, engineered by reason, because he sees in it 
the only real instrument for the achievement of So- 
cialism. Like all pioneers in search of an EI 
Dorado, he has found something quite different from 
the original object in mind. Indeed, in his search 
for freedom of will, he has really succeeded in dis- 
covering three checks and limitations to its opera- 
tion; and he has long since abandoned the paradox 
of free will. For he has discovered, as first limi- 
tation, the iron law of personal responsibility to be 
the alternative to the golden rule of personal con- 
duct. Second, the desirability of the sacrifice of the 


individual will to the realization of the general 
good of society through the progressive evolution 
of the race. And third, the personal, tempera- 
mental restriction which forbids him to accept any- 
thing as true, to take any action, to allow any free 
play to his will which would seriously militate 
against the progressive advance of collectivism. He 
has achieved the remarkable distinction of embrac- 
ing collectivism without sacrificing individualism, of 
preaching intellectual anarchy without ignoring the 
claims of the Collective Ego.^ j 

In Bernard Shaw rages the daemonic, half-insen- 
sate intuition of a Blake, with his seer's faculty for 
inverted truism; while the dose, detective cleverness 
of his ironic paradoxes demonstrates him to be a 
Becque upon whom has fallen the mantle of a Gil- 
bert. In the limning of character, the mordantly 
revelative ^strokes of a Hogarth prove him to be a 
realist of satiric portraiture. The enticingly auda- 
cious insouciance of a Wilde, with his nonchalant 
wit and easy epigram, is united with the exquisite 
effrontery of a Whistler, with his devastating jeux 
d^ esprit and the ridentem dicere verum. If Shaw 
is a Celtic Moltere de nos jours, it is a Moliere in 
whom comedy stems from' the individual and tragedy 
from society. If Shaw is the Irish Ibsen, it is a 
laughing Ibsen — looking out upon a half-mad 
world with the riant eyes of a Heine, a Chamfort, 
or a Sheridan. 






Many years ago, Matthew Arnold pleaded for 
the organization of the theatre in England — the 
irresistible theatre, as he so optimistically called 
it. For the past twenty years, tentative and grop- 
ing steps, now this way, now that, have been di- 
rected towards this visionary goal. England may 
be the most conservative country in the world. 
Englishmen may be proud of their ability to " mud- 
dle through somehow." Once let a great creative 
and basically fruitful conception take shape in their 
minds, and then their perseverance and dogged de- 
termination brook no obstacle until their object is 
fully attained. By the year 1 9 1 6 we may expect the 
beginning, at least, of the consummation of that 
great project for a national theatre, in commemora- 
tion of William Shakspere, which will place Great 
Britain abreast of the great nations of the world in 
the domain of the theatre. If the patient, arduous 
and unremitting efforts of the adherents and sup- 
porters of the drama, in its highest and most original 
forms, are taken as criteria, we may confidently look 
forward to a not distant future when the repertory 
idea shall have found realization in stable practice, 



when the brilliant and original efforts of the drama- 
tists of the new school shall have won the permanent 
support of the British public. 

Whenever a creative movement, in no matter what 
field of human activity, is forward, and is tri- 
umphantly hailed as " new," the public is inclined 
to regard it with a certain amount of reserve, if 
not with suspicion and distrust. And when, besides, 
this " new " movement comes into existence as a 
form of revolt against existent conditions, the public 
is all the more inclined to say : '' All right. Go 
ahead. But you must meet the tests of the com- 
mercial theatre. You must create your public, or at 
least show that there is a submerged public ready 
to support you. Make good if you can. But don't 
expect to achieve permanent results by counting 
^lely on popular sympathy." 

The New Drama in England to-day, with Ber- 
nard Shaw and Granville Barker as its leading ex- 
ponents, is essentially an experimiental school. 
From the beginning, every effort has pointed toward 
fresh extensions of sense in the field of the drama. 
Freedom for the exercise of dramatic talents is 
posited as the fundamental pre-requisite for the 
healthy development of the drama. The exponents 
of the new school have sought above all things to 
free themselves from the confining restrictions of the 
drama, and to express themselves unreservedly — in 
idea, in form — regardless of whether the result 


seemed *' dramatic" or not. These ideals brought 
diem into conflict — an irrepressible conflict — with 
two established traditions — the commercial theatre, 
and the censorship. From the first, it was apparent 
that the long-run system of the commercial theatre 
was fatal to the chances of the new dramatist. His 
public was destined to be, not the '' great public," 
but a '' lesser public," in part composed of intelli- 
gent theatre-goers, in part of people who have ceased 
to encourage the banalities and falsities of the 
theatre of commerce, in part of a new quota of the 
human throng. Moreover, it soon became appar- 
ent that if the drama was to flourish, if new talent 
was to burgeon and blossom, if the path was to be 
made clear for the experimentalist, the first and 
most imperative necessity was the abolition, or at 
least radical modification, of the censorship. Not 
less essential — for it had nothing to do with mere 
institutional bars — was the desire to create, not 
simply strikingly new modes of stage entertainment, 
but works of art that would bear the test of publica- 
tion. There was the thrust toward utter realism 
— the ambition to create a drama that would wear 
the drab, as well as the brilliant garments of life 

It was Bernard Shaw who initiated the New 
Drama twenty years ago with Widowers' Houses. 
The Independent Theatre, inaugurated by Mr. J. T. 
Grein, failed in its effort, as did the New Century 


Theatre, to bring to the fore a group of budding 
dramatists. But it was the immediate cause of en- 
ticing Bernard Shaw into the field of dramatic au- 
thorship. Mr. Grein demanded evidence of the 
latent dramatic talent in England which only needed 
the offer of a field for its display. Shaw claimed to 
have manufactured the evidence; and that claim 
has been made good in the great capitals, and on 
the great stages, of the world. In The Authot^s 
Apology, prefixed to the Dramatic Opinions and Es* 
says (English Edition), Shaw especially insists that 
those dramatic criticisms were " not a series of 
judgments aiming at impartiality, but a siege laid 
to the theatre of the Nineteenth Century by an au- 
thor who had to make his own way into it at the 
point of the pen, and throw some of its defenders 
into the moat." Shaw was accused of unfairness 
and intolerance as a critic of the drama, of the intent 
to stifle native dramatic talent with forcible con- 
demnation. ^ When Shaw vigorously charged Pinero, 
Jones and others with failure, he was simply charg- 
ing them with failure to come his way and do what 
he wanted. '' I postulated a^ desirable a certain 
kind of play in which I was destined ten years later 
to make my mark as a playwright (as I very well 
foreknew in the depth of my own unconsciousness) ; 
and I brought everybody, authors, actors, managers, 
to the one test: were they coming my own way or 
staying in the old grooves? " He baldly attempted 


" the institution of a new art," in which the dra- 
matist could give the freest play to his own original- 
ity; and foresaw as result a new and hybrid drama 
— part narrative, part homily, part description, 
part dialogue, and part drama (in the conventional 
sense). In the days that have followed such pro- 
nouncement the English stage has been enriched by 
such original, such powerful, such unique plays as 
Major Barbara, Getting Married, The Foysey In" 
heritance, and The Madras House — hybrids all 
perhaps, analytical and dialectical, strained and in 
some cases repellant — but marked by a mysterious 
novelty, the sign manual of genius. 

The next significant step in the slow glacier-like 
movement toward the creation of a native drama of 
spontaneous art and the establishment of a national 
theatre that woilld worthily represent the national 
genius, is found in the establishment of the Stage 
Society, of London. At first its ambition was the 
very modest one of giving private performances, 
on Sunday afternoons, in studios and such other 
places as might prove available. The scheme found 
enthusiastic supporter^ among people of rather aim- 
less intellectual tastes, who eagerly sought in the 
performace of the Stage Society a " refuge from the 
dulness of the English Sunday." As the society 
grew in strength and numbers, the performances 
came to be given in theatres — permissible when no 
admission fee was charged. After a time^ the 



Sunday performance was generally followed by an- 
other performance on Monday afternoon. The 
Stage Society thus became the logical successor of 
the Independent Theatre, founded some ten years 
before; and while it has always remained a theatre 
a cote, the importance of its work in fostering latent 
dramatic genius cannot be too strongly emphasized. 
It was founded in 1899, and during thirteen 
seasons (to 191 1) produced forty-six English 
plays, and twenty-odd plays by continental dram- 
atists. With seven exceptions, these plays were 
produced by the society for the first time on the 
English stage. In its very first season it produced 
Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell and Candida, 
Maeterlinck's Interieur and La Mort de Tintagiles, 
Hauptmann's Das Friedensfest and Henrik Ibsen's 
The League of Youth. In its second season it pro- 
duced Shaw's Captain Brassbound's Conversion, 
Hauptmann's Einsame Menschen, and Ibsen's The 
Pillars of Society. In its third season were pro- 
duced The Lady from the Sea, and The M arrying 
of Anne Leete, the latter a remarkable play by anew 
dramatic author, H. Granville Barker. It is need- 
less to enumerate the great modern dramas, chiefly 
dramas-oLthfiiight and of purpg jse, which have been 
produced by the Stage Society during the remaining 
years up to to-day. Suffice it to say that the Stage 
Society has played in England, though in a somewhat 
less conspicuous way, the role which has been played 


on the continent by the Theatrg^Lihrc, L'CEuvn 
and the Freie Biihne. From it came B^nar 

Shaw — and Granville Barker — soon to be united 
in an enterprise at the Court Theatre which is with- 
out a parallel in t he history of the English stage. 
From that fecund school of drama cam^ ^]sn the late. 
St> John Hankin. a dramatist of rare promise, and 
Mr. John Galsworthy, the author of the original 
and powerful dramas, Strife and Justice. 

The Repertory Theatre idea has gained a firm 
footing in England; and to-day bids fair to go for- 
ward slowly to a more permanent and enduring 
establishment. In 1898 was founded the Irish 
Literary Theatre, under the auspices of the Na- 
tional Literary Society, founded by Mr. W. B. 
Yeats seven years before. That energetic woman 
who played the mysterious " angel " to the Avenue 
Theatre production of Shaw's Arms and the Man 
in 1894, Miss A. E. F. Horniman, may fitly be 
described as the mother of repertory in England. 
Largely through her efforts has come into being the 
Abbey Theatre, the repertory theatre of Ireland — 
the only theatre in an English-speaking country, said 
Mr. W. B. Yeats in 1908, " that is free for a cer- 
tain number of years to play what it thfnks worth 
playing, and to whistle at the timid." The experi- 
ment of Mr. Shaw and Mr. Barker at the Court 
Theatre, of which I shall speak later, showed the] 
way to the true repertory, of which it was, tech- 


nicallyi not a perfect example. At Manchester in 
1907, the first true repertory theatre in Great 
Britain was established by Miss Homiman. The 
experimental theatres at Stockport, Glasgow, Edin- 
burgh and Liverpool are all healthy manifestations 
of the new movement towards Citizens* Theatres on 
repertory lines in modified forms. Mr. Charles 
Frohman's season of repertory at the Duke of 
York's Theatre (1909-19 10), London, is the first 
sign, though of doubtful success, of the effort to 
plumb the commercial possibilities of the repertory 
system. In his recent book on the Repertory The- 
atre, Mr. P. P. Howe says of Mr. Frohman's some- 
what inconclusive experiment: 

" It is a step on the road. The seemly and re- 
quisite thing for the State to do is to elevate the 
drama above the chances of commerce, as Smollett 
in common with most thinking persons saw a cen- 
tury and a half ago, as nearly every European coun- 
try has already done, and as this country will 
do in something much less than a century and 
a half. But the business of a National Theatre 
is primarily with the classical repertory of plays. 
Mr. Frohman's theatre, pointing as it does to en- 
dowment, points equally clearly along the line of 
individual experiment, which will always be the path 
of the advancing drama. The next step on this 
road is clear. A theatre combining convenience of 
site with a rent only moderately extortionate, fore- 


going the unnecessary complication of expensive 
stars, and keeping a clear eye on the public it would 
serve may be set going in London to-morrow with 
satisfactory pecuniary profit. A certain definite 
public is now made familiar with the repertory idea, 
and to convert this public into a large, convinced, and 
permanent public for good drama is a mere matter 
of persistence. ... The good play-goer will be 
created by good drama, but it is not to be forgotten 
that the good play-goer also exists and is awaiting a 
theatre worth his while." -^ 

The crown of the Stage Society's achievement ^iis ^JwJ 
Mr. William Archer once expressed it, was the ' 
presentation of Mr. H. Granville Barker to the 
world of dramatic art in England. Much has been 
written about Mr. Shaw, his genius, career, and in- 
fluence upon contemporary drama. Little enough, 
strange to say, has been written about Mr. Barker, 
with his strange, austere talent, his anti-sentimental 
and chiselled art, his complicated simplicity in techr 
nique, his almost fierce contempt for the normal 
relations of average, everyday life. A few people 
nowadays are beginning eagerly to claim him as 
the one true dramatist — and English withal — of 
the movement Though bom (1877) in Kensing- 
ton, the curiously complex strains in his ancestry are 
almost everything racial but English : Scotch, Welsh, 
Italian, Portuguese, and even a trace, perhaps, of the- 


Almost from birth he seemed destined for the 
theatre. As Shaw learned from his mother, a well- 
known singer, the secrets of enunciation which so 
gready aided him later as a platform speaker, so 
Barker learned from his mother, a well-known re- 
citer, the art of speaking and reciting. At seven, 
he was already proficient in expression; and at the 
age of thirteen, though callow in the extreme, he 
was shot into the theatre — to hit or miss as fate, 
or his own genius, might decree. His education, in 
the conventional sense, then abruptly ceased and to 
this circumstance perhaps is due his intolerance of 
jthe academic, and his conviction that the only great 
^chool of art is life. He served a rather severe ap- 
prenticeship to the stage between his thirteenth and 
his seventeenth years ; but he was not to attract public 
notice until several years later. Then he came into 
prominence in connection with the Stage Society — 
as actor, as producer, and as author. His own play, 
The Marrying of Ann Leete, which he produced, 
awoke the thoughtful attention and appreciative 
criticism of such men as Mr. Shaw, Mr. William 
Archer, and Mr. Arthur Symons. In Shaw's Ca«- 
dida he achieved a memorable effect in the part of 
Marchbanks; his impersonation of Richard II at 
an Elizabethan Stage Society performance helped 
also to mark him out as a brilliant actor. Much 
might be written about his art as an actor; for it 
Is impossible to say how much his art as a dramatist 


owes to his skill as a player. It was in 1904 that 
Mr. Barker first came into association with the Court 
Theatre. Mr. J. H. Leigh, with Mr. J. E. 
Vedrenne as manager, was giving a series of credita- 
ble Shakq)erean revivals at the Court Theatre 
and he invited Mr. Barker to produce The Two 
Gentlemen of Verona. This production, in which 
Mr. Barker played the part of Launce, was a 
marked success; and the first result of his association 
with Mr. Vedrenne was a series of six matinee per- 
formances of Candida. The final outcome was the 
Vedrenne-Barker management of the Court Theatre 
from 1904 to 1907. 

Throughout this time, Mr. Barker took a leading 
part in a number of the plays which he produced; 
and this he continued to do in the subsequent pro- 
ductions at the Savoy Theatre. In 1904, Mr. 
Barker had produced for the New Century Theatre, 
under Mr. Vedrenne's management, Professor Gil- 
bert Murray's "spiritual" translation of the Hip- 
poly tu$ of Euripides; and it was partly their assor 
ciation in this successful experiment that led to the 
Court Theatre enterprise. Had it not been for 
the " new " drama, Mr. Barker would probably, as 
he once told me, have left the stage entirely-— 
though he felt a strong sense of mastery in Shak- 
sperean parts. His performances in his own and 
Shaw's plays, notably in Waste, Man and Superman, 
and The Devil's Disciple, were regarded as triumphs 


in the new style of acting. Had there been reper- 
tory in England, he would doubtless have remained 
on the stage. Despite the fact that he is ac- 
casionally seen on the boards, he has definitely 
abandoned the actor's career. His talent finds 
scope for display in two directions, stage-manage- 
ment and dramatic authorship. The close of the 
Vedrenne-Barker season at the Savoy marked his 
definite severance from the stage as an actor, al- 
though he has often won success on the boards since 
that time. During recent years he has devoted his 
best talents to theatre-management. 

To show the regard in which his work as an 
actor was held, I need only cite the words of the 
Spectator which appeared at the time of his " retire- 
ment " from the stage. The writer recognized Mr. 
Barker not alone as an alert and subtle interpreter of 
character, a master in the art of suggestion, an in- 
tellectual actor dominating his audience by skill 
rather than by force. "One of the principal 
causes of his artistic success is that he can mingle 
intellect with fancy, and his acting is often at its 
sprightliest when it is most significant. He pos- 
sesses in a high degree the indefinable quality of 
charm — a quality which he displays at its fullest 
perhaps in his rendering of Valentine in You Never 
Can Tell, and in the delightful third act of The 
Doctor's Dilemma. More than any other English 
actor, he can ' put the- spirit of youth into every- 


thing/ so that the whole scene becomes charged with 
high spirits — with Mr. Barker the art and in- 
genuity are there, but they are softened and ethereal- 
ized by a perpetual flow of English humour and 
English imagination." 

Of that remarkable experiment at the Court Thea- 
tre, I would refer the reader in especial to its re- 
corded history written by Mr. Desmond MacCarthy.- 
The companies trained by Mr. Barker, both at 
the Court Theatre and, subsequently, at the Savoy 
(September, 1907-March 14, 1908) wrought some- 
thing very like a revolution in the art of dramatic 
production in England. The unity of tone, the sub- 
ordination of the individual, the genuine striving 
for totality of effect, the constant changes of bill, 
the abolition of the "Star " system — all were note- 
worthy features of these undertakings. There were 
given 985 performances of thirty-two plays by 
seventeen actors; 701 of these performances were 
of eleven plays by one author, Mr. Shaw. Plays 
of other authors were produced — and often with 
striking success ; but in the main the whole undertak- 
ing may be regarded as a Shaw Festspiel, prolonged 
over three years. Mr. Galsworthy, Mr. Hankin, 
Mr. Masefield, Miss Elizabeth Robins, and Mr. 
Barker — all came strongly into public notice. The 
Court was not in the strict sense a repertory theatre ; 
rather it furnished a tentative compromise between 
the theatre a cote and the actor-managed theatye^ 



backed by a syndicate of capitalists. As Mr. Barker 
said : '^ The first thing we did was to struggle 
against the long-run system, partly because we 
iivanted to produce a lot of plays, and partly be- 
cause we disagreed with it. It is bad for plays and 
bad for acting." In March, 1909, Mr. Barker pro- 
duced a series of matinees of Mr. Galsworthy's 
Strife at the Duke of York's Theatre; and during 
the season of 1909-19 10 we find him actively en- 
gaged for the repertory season of Mr. Charles Froh- 
man at the same theatre — producing his own plays 
The Madras House and Prunella, among others. 
Mr. Barker was offered in 1907 the post of director 
of the New Theatre in New York — a convincing 
proof that he had made a great reputation as a 
producer; but his conception of the theatre intime 
as the indispensable setting for the modern drama 
precluded his acceptance of the proffered director- 
ship of the New Theatre, because of its grandiose 
proportions. After his return from an inspection 
of the New Theatre, he freely predicted its fail- 
ure. The admirable book he wrote in collab- 
oration with Mr. Archer, Plans and Estimates 
for a National Theatre, points forward to a future 
National Memorial to Shakspere in the shape of 
a great theatre, supported by private endow- 
ment, and comprehensively representative in char- 

In the face of these multifarious activities, and 


many that I have omitted to mention — as actor, 
as producer, as author, as builder and inspirer — 
Mr. Barker all the while was persisting in a strenu- • 
ous course of straightforward drudgery in the effort ; 
to educate himself as a dramatist. In 1893, he be-j 
gan regularly to write plays ; and in that year was 
produced his first drama — a play in which Mr. 
Barker and some amateur actors appeared before 
a " most select audience." Though the plays of 
this early period were amateurish and inexpert, they 
exhibited the instinct of the born craftsman. They 
were, as Mr. Barker expressed it, " stage-tight " — 
much as one would describe a box as water-tight: 
they played themselves, on the stage, before an 
audience. Shortly after turning dramatist, Mr. 
Barker began to write plays regularly in collabora- 
tion with Mr. Berte Thomas; and during the next 
SIX years these two wrote. In conjunction, some five 
or six plays. Only one of these plays, The 
fVeather-Hen, actually saw the light. The moder- 
ate success it enjoyed was well deserved. By this 
time Mr. Barker had worked free of derivative in- 
fluences; and this play showed itself spontaneous in 
treatment, genuine in expression. 

All these efforts can only be called promising 
tentatives. They have no significance for the pub- 
lic; and are merely important as successive links in 
the evolution of Mr. Barker's genius as a crafts- 
man. In The Marrying of Ann Leete, produced by 

5 ^ 



the Stage Society at the Royalty Theatre, January 
26, 1902, Mr. Barker made his first serious bid for 
wide recognition. It registers, on his part, a serious 
and sincere effort to *' find himself " — to discover 
an inevitable medium in dramatic expression which 
would remain permanently associated with his name. 
With all its peculiar originality, its almost unpre- 
cedented novelty of technique, it failed of its pur- 
pose, not for lack of meaning, but for excess of 


r If there is one outstanding feature of Mr. Barker's 
talent, which grows more evident with each new 
play, it is the scope, the social perspective, of his 

I anecdote. This play, laid at the end of the eight- 
eenth century, is not concerned merely with the fate 
and destiny of particular individuals : its theme is the 
moral, and physical, degeneration of a family. An 
air of languorous corruption, of polite blackguardism 
hangs, like a miasma, over the scene. Mr. Carnaby 
Leete, a brilliant, but utterly unscrupulous politician, 
dexterously " stacking the cards ** for his own ad- 
vancement without regard to party fealty, personal 
loyalty or honor, is a remarkable figure — one of 
the most remarkable figures Mr. Barker has ever 
projected. There is one other remarkable feature 
of this play — the technique. Indeed it may be re- 
garded as an unsuccessful experiment in technique. 
The action — if the static picture of a family in the 
final stages of polite corruption can be called ^^ ac- 


tion'* — is conveyed by a species of incoherent 
volubility, a sort of brilliant indirection that is all 
but illuminating. The disjecta membra of vaguely 
significant conversations fall about us like hail-stones ; 
we experience a sense of suppressed excitement in 
tracking down some elusive secret to its hidden lair. 
But that is as far as Mr. Barker got — the sugges- 
tively cryptic. Already we see him employing 
woman as the embodiment of an abstract idea — the 
woman boldly entangling the good-natured but dense 
philanderer in her carefully devised snare. The 
sense of grossness comes strongly upon one in the 
finale — this eugenic, but unnatural, solution of mat- 
ing the over-civilized and devitalized woman with 
the coarse but pure-blooded man. It is that same 
oppressive and heavy atmosphere of sex communi- 
cated to us by James Lane Allen's Butterflies — A 
Tale of Nature. And we realize in the ending, not 
a natural nor even a morbid impulse — but a strictly 
sociologic motive which might have occurred to 
Westermarck, but never to Ann Leete 1 " Mr. 
Barker can write," says Mr. Arthur Symons in a 
contemporary account of the play. ... " H?] 
brings his people on and off with an unconventionality 
which comes of knowing the resources of the thea- 
tre, and of being unfettered by the traditions of its 
technique. . . . Mr. Barker, in doing the right or 
the clever thing, does it just not quite strongly enough 
to carry it against opposition. • . . The artist, who 


is yet an imperfect artist, bewilders the world with 
what is novel in his art; the great artist convinces 
the world. Mr. Barker . . . will come to think 
with more depth and less tumult; he will come to 
work with less prodigality and more mastery of 
means. But he has energy already, and a sense of 
what is absurd and honest in the spectacle of this 
game, in which the pawns seem to move them- 

Mr. Barker has recently said that, in his opinion, 
" the Theatre — with music — is marked but as the 
art of the immediate future, of the next hundred 
years." The prophecy called up to my mind an 
endless series of plays with Prunella as forerunner. 
That beautiful hybrid — in which collaborated a 
skilled technician and keen thinker, a poet, and a 
musician — is oi^e of the most tender and gracefully 
conceived plays I can recall. With all its airy fancy, 
It contrives to embody a wealth of real meaning that 
creeps close to the heart of everyone. It is ctit from 
the same pattern, and was doubtless influenced by, 
Rostand's Les Romanesques — that fanciful Wat- 
teau picture of love, life, disillusion and reconcile- 
ment, which takes place " anywhere so the scenery 
is attractive," in which the people dress as they 
please " provided the costumes are pretty." 
This Pierrot, with his rollicking, rackety band 
of gay mummers, is French in conception, 
but English in execution — lacking in the Gallic 


subtlety but instinct with an insouciance, a playful 
naivete, that is quaintly English. Through the eyes 
of his familiar, Scaramel, the blase and the unilluded 
we see Pierrot as the world's mad truant — lyrically 
in pursuit of a bright happiness that is all self-grati- 
fication. He is a graceful tyro in the poetic art of 
living — with no regret for the past, no thought for 
the morrow. Into Prunella's garden he trips with 
many a dextrous and insinuating pose, awakes love 
in her heart, and, as by a miracle of hallucination, 
transforms her into — Pierrette. The statue speaks 
to these twain its oracle of ** Love whose feet shall 
outrun time " — and the lovers rapturously flee from 
this prim garden of the rectangular virtues into a 
wide world of blue moonlight and many stars. A 
little space — and the once gay Pierrot, now in fu- 
nereal black, returns to the garden, overgrown and 
choked with autumn leaves, to mourn for the lost 
Pierrette. Life has caught him In Its snare ; he for- 
got the little Pierrette when he was upon his travels, 
and when he returned he found her no more. In 
agonized accents, he calls despairingly beneath her 
window : "Are you there, little bird, are you there ? **, 
while Scaramel ever stands at his elbow like a symbol 
of world-weariness, of disillusion, of despair. In an- 
swer to his passionate petition, Love speaks, to show 
him hl$ folly; and he drinks the bitter cup. But 
Pierrette, In tatters, yet still tender and true, has 
found her way, also, back to the garden of true love. 


Life takes them by the hand, and re-unites them In 
the new bond of a perfected love. 

From this time forward, Mr. Barker begins to 
** take his stride." The Foysey Inheritance marks 
a new departure. We now recognize in him a 
" new " dramatist in a very real sense — a dramatist 
with original and clear-cut ideas, unconfined by the 
" restrictions *' of. dramatic art, and firm-poised in 
his conception of the limitless possibilities of drama. 
He protests creatively against the professor of 
criticism and the sophisticated playgoer, who are only 
too ready with the unthinking and prejudiced: 
" Oh, yes, clever enough in its way — but not a play.'* 
He deliberately sets himself the arduous task of 
creating a drama of " normal human interest " — not 
to capture the fancy of the hardened playgoer or to 
tickle the palate of the professional critic, but to win 

I the intelligent interest of the normal man and woman. 

V " The English theatre, for heaven knows how 
ntany years," he said in 1908, " has diligently driven 
out everybody over the age of twenty-five — I speak, 
at any rate, mentally, for there are plenty of people 
with grey hairs who will never be more than twenty- 
five. And you have got to give what you can call, in 
the strict sense of the word, an intelligent and amus- 
ing entertainment, before you can get these people 
back. When you've done that you've done all that 
you can do for the English theatre." The profes- 
sional playgoer wants "the same old game" year 



after year — romantic love, thrills, scenes a faire, 
" curtains,'* dramatic tangles dextrously unwound, 
handsome men and beautiful women, exquisite scen- 
ery, magnificent costumes. Mr. Barker posits a 
drama of large humane concern, dealing sincerely 
and naturally with normal human life, which shall 
possess the indispensable qualification of interesting 
an audience. It is this which he has given us in the 
remarkable play. The Voysey Inheritance. 

Here again, as in the case of Tlie Marrying of 
Ann Leete, Mr. Barker reveals a mastery in scope 
and perspective. It presents analogies to a novel of 
Balzac, rather than to a drama of Ibsen — is rather 
more like a section of the Comedie Humaine laid on 
English soil, than like a representation of such a 
bourgeois family episode as that of the house of 
Bernick, or of Borkman. It goes to the root of a 
problem which seems, somehow, peculiar to English 
life — the utter dependence of a family upon a set- 
tled source of income from conservative investment. 
After the manner of his kind, Mr. Voysey has jug- 
gled with the funds entrusted to his care in the 
conduct of a great business; has robbed Peter to pay 
Paul; continues to do it, not simply to retrieve the 
losses, but latterly almost as a matter of course — his 
" right " as a shrewd financier. When he dies sud- 
denly, his son Edward, upon whom the revelation of 
his father's and perhaps grandfather's, peccadilloes 
has come with a devastating shock, finds that he 





must take up this loathly burden — the Voysey In- 
heritance. With an acute sense of honor, a set of 
high (as well as hard and fast) principles, he shrinks 
back in horror from the prospect of all the lying and 
shuffling, the trickery and deception that will be re- 
quired of him. In solemn conclave the entire fam- 
ily is informed of the situation; and in one of the 
most remarkably natural scenes on the modern stage, 
each character and personality standing out with 
cameo-like distinctness, the sensitive Edward finds 
that all, even Alice, the woman he loves, are against 
him. Character, individual temperament and preju- 
dice speak with entire clearness in the decision of 
each. And when Alice, with well-aimed words, 
brings his high-flown principles wounded and crip- 
pled to the ground, Edward begins to feel at last 
that fate has marked him out — for better or for 
worse, he must rid himself of " morality,'* " prin- 
ciple," and " duty,'* and sacrifice personal niceties 
of feeling in the sincere if Jesuitical effort to help to 
right, by questionable means^ a great wrong. In 
the event, the grasping old Booth, a lifelong friend 
of the family, demands his money from the firm, 
for re-investment elsewhere, and — the secret is out I 
We are left in fine doubt as to the outcome — we 
only know that old Booth has revealed the secret, 
and suspect that the crash is inevitable. Edward, 
fortified at last by the consciousness that he has done 
all that was possible to set matters straight and to 



undo the things which his father did, faces the future 
with brave heart. The solution of a great ethical 
problem in terms that contravene conventional con- 
ceptions of morality, and the support of Alice, have 
made a man out of a coward. If he must go to 
prison, he will go proud and strong — in the con- 
sciousness that he has done the right, and that Alice 
will be proud of him. 

The Voysey Inheritance is a work of genius — 

riginal, deeply conceived. It is a fine type of the 
bourgeois drama — what George Eliot called a 

scene from private life " — which Ibsen, in play 
after play, brought to such a high pitch of technical 
perfection. Its most remarkable feature, as Mr. 
(Desmond MacCarthy has pointed out, " is the skill 
with which the interest in a single situation is main- 
tained through four acts; that this is a sign of fer- 
tility and not poverty of imagination all who have 
ever tried to write know well." With such a situa* 
tion, the successful playwright — who writer what 
the professional critic calls " plays " — in nine cases 
out of ten would haye made an utter failure. Even 
Ibsen makes " heroes " out of Bernick and Borkman 
— throws about them a halo of daring chicanery or 
Napoleonic hazard. Mr. Barker delineates a fi- 
nancier without exaggeration or distortion, without 
even a trace of histrionism; and resolutely holds his 
protagonist down to the unherolc level of plain soul- 
testing actuality. With his thesis 1 cannot agree; 



for his treatment I have the sincerest admiration. 
In many respects it is his most satisfying play — for 
its djmamic quality; the characters grow, enlarge, 
crystallize or develop, narrow, harden : we mark the 
crucial changes wrought by circumstance on char- 
acter. It ends, with artistic finesse, upon an unre- 
solved cadence — imparting to the spectators, in the 
spectacle, a sense of ^^ the strange irregular rhythm 
of life." It possesses a rare and memorable qual- 
ity: we are left in the end with a haunting sense 
of actuality, the impression of life — of life still 
going on after the curtain falls. 

In 1 90 1, Mr. Barker was converted to Socialism. 
Socialism proved the most transforming influence of 
his life. His whole attitude toward the theatre un- 
derwent a change that can be described as nothing 
less than revolutionary. For the first time he be- 
came profundly imbued with a sense of the necessity 
of organizing the theatre, of making it a great in- 
strumentality in the social life of our time. He came 
to see in the repertory theatre the hope of the con- 
temporary drama ; and his notable undertaking at the 
Court Theatre, and afterwards at the Savoy, may be 
regarded as a direct outcome of Socialist conviction. 
The National Theatre, in the shape of a Shakspere 
Memorial, became, in his eyes, the inevitable in- 
strumentality for the establishment of the Snglish 
drama upon a great and permanent basis. His work 
in collaboration with Mr. William Archer is the 


fruit of his studies in that intricate problem. His 
association with Mr. Shaw, Mr. Sidney Webb, and 
their confreres upon committees of the Fabian So- 
ciety wrought a tremendous change in his methods 
of thought, teaching him to co-ordinate, to concen- 
trate, to think in terms of reality and realizable 
y "fact. In Waste, his next drama, we observe the un- 
mistakable signs of that influence. 

The banning of Waste by the King's Reader 
of Plays created a tremendous sensation; the inci- 
dent was a vitally contributory cause to the investi- 
gation of the censorship by a joint committee of the 
two Houses of Parliament in 1909. In many respects 
it was a fortunate thing for Mr. Barker and for the 
future of the English drama. It focused public at- 
tention upon Mr. Barker and thrust him forward 
decisively as a most conspicuous exemplar of the 
"new" school of dramatists in England — a posi- 
tion which he might not have attained solely upon 
the stage success of Waste. Moreover it tended to 
unite solidly the almost universal objection to the 
censorship — an opposition that finally burst forth 
when Shaw's Press Cuttings and The Showing up of 
Blanco Posnet were banned in close succession. 
The report of the committee on the censorship ^ 
finally brought the issues clearly before the English 

"^Report of the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords 
and the House of Commons on the Stage Plays {Censorship), etc* 
Eyre and Spottiswoode. 


public and resulted in the present far-from-satlsfac- 
tory compromise. 

It is quite impossible to convey any adequate idea 
of Waste without narrating its story; and for that 
the reader is referred to the published play. I have 
never read any play which evoked so many jarring 
and contradictory sensations. The theme — adul- 
tery, a consequent illegal medical operation, the death 
of the patient, the effect of her death upon the co- 
respondent, a brilliant politician, whose future is 
thereby ruined — is a theme from the mere mention 
of which one instinctively recoils. Once grant that 
the subject is a legitimate one for stage treatment, 
and the opposition of the censorship disappears. 
The topic is treated with earnestness and sincerity 
by Mr. Barker; but with an apparently needless in- 
sistence upon a certain phase. The ultimate mean- 
ing of the play would have remained unchanged 
had Mr. Barker treated this phase of the play 
with more delicacy and reserve. The treat- 
ment of great political, social and religious 
questions in the play is the most powerful, most 
vitally interesting, and withal the most entirely true 
to life that I have ever encountered in any contem- 
porary drama, with the single exception of John 
Bull's Other Island; of the two, Mr. Barker's play 
is superior to Shaw's in realistic detail and fidelity to 
actual life. From his contact with Mr. Webb and 


Mr. Shaw, Mn Barker achieved a mastery of the 
political issues involved, and presented them in 
impressive and convincing truthfulness. Trebell, the 
brilliant politician, is at once repellent and abnormal 
in temperament; a megalomaniac of the most virulent 
tjrpe. In his nature there is no spark of altruism; 
he has unbounded contempt for other people, sublime 
confidence in himself and his powers. His temper- 
amental coldness — an inhuman coldness — takes 
the form, sincere though it be, of a^ sort of sensatidnal 
cynicism. For the weak and vacuous victim of his 
passion he has not a spark of pity; he coldly argues 
with her at a moment when she needs and deserves 
sympathy and pity. There is nothing more grue- 
some and horrible in the whole play than the bond of 
union cemented between the adulterer and the be- 
trayed husband — a fellow-feeling of sympathy in 
condemnation of the luckless woman. Trebell hates 
women; he hates with icy hatred this wretched vic- 
tim because she will not abide the consequences — 
for the child's sake. He has always felt contempt 
for men and women because of his power over them; 
and he hates this woman all the more because he 
has given her the power to ruin him. The cabinet 
will be formed without him — people cannot work, 
even in politics, with a monster. 

Trebell kills himself — not because he has lost 
his chance for a place in the cabinet, but because by 


a strange twist of a kind of mystic psychology, he 
realizes his spiritual failure. This woman, to whom 
he has never given a passing thought, has shrunk 
instinctively from an ordeal, to endure which woman 
needs all the love and help which man can give. A 
dream-child of his morbid fancy has been slain — 
this spells his failure, his consciousness of his inabil- 
ity to cope with the vast human issues of creation 
and life. 

Mr. Barker has publicly expressed his gratitude 
to Mr. Charles Frohman for proving the practicality 
of modern repertory. He has brought " Repertory 
from the regions of talk and agitation to be an ac- 
complished fact.'' It was during the season of 1910 
that Mr. Barker's play The Madras House was pro- 
duced by Mr. Frohman at the Duke of York's The- 
atre. Neither Mr. Barker's The Madras House 
nor Mr. Shaw's Misalliance with ten and eleven 
performances respectively, proved to be " winning 
cards "; the audiences were small, and their size did 
not warrant the continuance of the performances. 
After reading The Madras House I was impressed] 
anew with Mr. Barker's originality as a technician 
and the scope of his vision as an interpreter of life. 
Woman — her present status, her r^elation to mar- 
riage, her future — is the theme of the play; and this 
problem is viewed from a different angle in each sue* 
cessive act. Various types, all sharply delineated in 
personality, are brought upon the stage, not for their 


own sake, but solely for the light they may throw, 
by reason of their individual opinions aind prejudices, 
upon the question of sex. In spite of the several in- 
cidents of the play, which vitally concern the char- 
acters, there is no real plot — the protagonist is 
Woman, and the play concerns itself with her destiny. 
We have, in succession, the attitude of the father of 
six marriageable, but unmarried, daughters; the 
oriental view-point of a man who has set up a harem 
In the East, after being separated from his English 
wife ; a cheap American " hustler " with subtly gross 
ideas about the utility of sex in business, a rather 
heavy caricature of the P. T. Barnum type ; a woman 
who has been " wronged " ; a woman whose husband 
Is charged with infidelity; the shrill conventionalized 
figure of duty ; and so on. And then there is the in- 
timate trio — Philip Madras, his wife, and his 
friend Major Thomas, the " mean, sensual man,** 
who is always obsessed with the strange idea that 
if a woman evinces any interest in him, she must 
be secretly wanting him to kiss her 1 

As long as Mr. Barker is focussing a rapid fire 
from all corners of the stage upon the subject of 
woman, he holds our undivided interest. In this 
play I observe for the first time the clear influence 
of Mr. Shaw. For this is Mr. Shaw's method par 
excellence — to consider some theme of large humali 
or social interest, and have everybody tell what they 
think about It This is the technical basis of Mr. 


Barker's last play — save for this striking difference. 
Shaw's characters talk about countless things not 
strictly germane to the theme; Barker's characters 
focus on the theme — as George Meredith would 
say, they " ramble concentrically.'* The last act, 
though still concerned with the theme, is in the nature 
of anti-climax. Woman has a hard innings; and 
never is she thought of as anything but a shavian 
"mythological monster," unscrupulously using her 
personal charms for selfish gratification. Philip 
Madras, who seems to direct die entire play, rather 
inconsequentially comes to the conclusion — a 
conclusion inartistically unmotivcd — that the only 
career for a self-respecting man nowadays who 
wishes to help his fellow-men and fellow-women, 
is to join the County Council and become a social 
reformer. As he says, "That's Public Life. 
That's Democracy. That's the Future." He is the 
self-satisfied young man who is coolly superior and 
always sure of himself — vastly irritating despite 
his large social views. 

" In The Madras House,'* says Mr. Max Beer- 
bohm, " there is only one character that docs not 
stand forth vital and salient; and this is the char- 
acter of Philip Madras, the wise and goou young 
man who is always ip the right — always perspica- 
cious, unselfish and charitable by virtue of being 
himself so shadowy and cold. It is a note that per- 
vades modern drama, this doctrine that human be- 


ings are always hopelessly In. the wrong, and that 
only the inhuman- ones can hope to be in the right. 
I don't say it is a false doctrine ; but it certainly is a 
lugubrious one. And we must be pardoned for a 
certain measure of impatience with Philip Madras. 
Repressing our impulse to call him an impostor, and 
hailing him reverently as pope, we can't even so, 
stand him — whether we feel we are in the right 1 

with him or in the wrong with the others." 1 

Mr. Barker is a dramatist of marked power and 
strong originality, a master of the tools of his craft. 
He has freed himself from the restrictions of his 
art: instead of obeying its "laws," he experiments 
freely and successfully with any materials he chooses. 
He has taken the bold course of " leaving Aristotle 
out." His definition of a play is a declaration of 
independence : " A play is anything that can be made 
effective upon the stage of a theatre by human 
agency." Perhaps his own words are prophetic — 
for he has done great things and will surely do 
greater: " We must go on breaking new ground, en- 
larging the boundaries of the new drama, fitting it 
for every sort of expression. When we deserve it a 
new dramatic genius will arise. He will neither 
break laws nor obey them. He will make laws and 
there will happily be no questioning."